Spatial acuity of the body surface over the life span

Somatosens Mot Res. 1996;13(2):153-66. doi: 10.3109/08990229609051403.


Spatial acuity over 13 regions of the body was assessed cross-sectionally in 122 male and female subjects between 8 and 87 years of age. Of two measures, the primary one was a threshold for detecting a gap between two points (a refinement of the conventional two-point threshold). The secondary one was a threshold of point localization in 7 of these 13 body regions. The two measures yielded similar pictures of body acuity and age-related changes in acuity, and they agreed in essentials with an early acuity map dating back to Weber in 1835, as cited and confirmed experimentally by Weinstein (1968). To this acuity map, the present study added the dimension of age. The main finding was that aging is much harder on some body regions than on others. Declining acuity with age was found to characterize all regions to one degree or another, but the hands and feet turned out to be far more vulnerable than the more central regions, including the very acute lip and tongue. Deterioration of acuity in the great toe (averaging 400% between youth and advanced age) and fingertip (averaging 130%) may adversely affect such diverse activities as braille reading, grasping, and maintaining balance. The acuity map determined by gap discrimination was essentially the same for males and females; however, males gave significantly smaller localization thresholds than females. In two body regions tested (fingertip and upper lip), children significantly outperformed young adults at gap discrimination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Psychophysics
  • Reference Values
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Skin / innervation*
  • Touch / physiology*