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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Haptic perception

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Abstract Fueled by novel applications, interest in haptic perception is growing. This paper provides an overview of the state of the art of a number of important aspects of haptic perception. By means of touch we can not only perceive quite different material properties, such as roughness, compliance, friction, coldness and slipperiness, but we can also perceive spatial properties, such as shape, curvature, size and orientation. Moreover, the number of objects we have in our hand can be determined, either by counting or subitizing. All these aspects will be presented and discussed in this paper. Although our intuition tells us that touch provides us with veridical information about our environment, the existence of prominent haptic illusions will show otherwise. Knowledge about haptic perception is interesting from a fundamental viewpoint, but it also is of eminent importance in the technological development of haptic devices. At the end of this paper, a few recent applications will be presented. WIREs Cogn Sci 2013, 4:357–374. DOI: 10.1002/wcs.1238 This article is categorized under: Psychology > Perception and Psychophysics
Illustration of the six most prominent exploratory procedures, as defined by Lederman and Klatzky. (a) Lateral motion; (b) pressure; (c) static contact; (d) unsupported holding; (e) enclosure; (f) contour following.
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CyberForce: haptic device with exoskeleton. A virtual environment can be interacted with haptically. Image courtesy of CyberGlove Systems LLC.
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Experimental set‐ups for curvature after‐effect measurements. Left: A blindfolded observer touches an adaptation surface with his index finger. Right: The same observer dynamically explores the curvature of a surface. Both conditions give rise to curvature after‐effects. The dynamic case even transfers to the other hand.
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Illustration of two well‐known visual illusions. (a) Müller–Lyer illusion. The two vertical lines are of equal length, but usually the left line is perceived as longer for both touch and vision. (b) Poggendorff illusion. The oblique line segments lie on the same line, but the right line segment is perceived as shifted upwards in the visual illusion, but downwards in the tactual illusion.
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Illustration of stimuli and procedure in a numerosity judgment experiment. Left: An observer is ready to grasp a bunch of six items. Centre: An observer grasped the bunch and determines the number of items. For low numbers (up to three) the observer can subitize and knows the number right away; for higher numbers the observer has to count. Right: The observer counts the number and this is usually done by throwing items out of the hand. This same set‐up is also used for haptic search experiments.
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Illustration of the reference frames. The right column shows the reference bar, which has the same orientation in all cases. The left column shows the test bar. Top: Allocentric reference frame; the test bar has the same physical orientation as the reference bar. Centre: Hand‐centered egocentric reference frame; the test bar has the same orientation with respect to the hand as the reference bar. Bottom: Haptically parallel; what observers perceive as parallel bars lies in between allocentrically and egocentrically parallel.
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Illustration of the parallelity tasks. Above: The task used by Blumenfeld. The participant has to straighten the two threads in such a way that they feel parallel both to each other and to the median plane. Below: The task used by Kappers and colleagues. The participant has to rotate the right bar in such a way that it feels parallel to the left bar.
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For most hands the length is larger than the width. This has repercussions for the perception of curvature. As length of the stimulus has a direct influence on perceived curvature, a spherical surface will feel more curved along the fingers than across the fingers.
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Examples of the stimuli used in the study by Pont et al. Upper row: concave stimuli. Bottom row: convex stimuli. In the experiments, the fingers are placed at the locations indicated by the circles. From left to right the stimuli contain just zeroth order information (height), zeroth and first order (height and slope) and zeroth, first and second order (height, slope and curvature). In order to discriminate two stimuli, the height difference in the zeroth order stimuli has to be much higher than the height difference in the stimuli that also contain first order information. For clarity, all stimuli in these examples are above threshold.
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Cups with silicone oils ranging from very thin to highly viscous, used for viscosity discrimination experiments.
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Top row: aluminum blocks with different thickness can be distinguished based on their thermal behavior. Bottom row: different materials (from left to right: copper, aluminum, and acrylic glass) with the same surface texture can be distinguished if their thermal properties differ sufficiently: copper and aluminum are easily distinguished from acrylic glass, but not so easily from each other.
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A blindfolded subject compares the compliance of two silicon rubber cylinders in a discrimination experiment.
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