The Psychology of Touch

By Morton A. Heller; William Schiff | Go to book overview
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sensation as aroused normally by simultaneous firing of warm and of (paradoxically) cold receptors.


It may have struck the reader that the global response of the human organism to the thermal environment is relatively simple. This response is often categorical--either acceptance or avoidance, pleasure or discomfort, seeking or escaping--depending on whether the well-being of the organism (or one of its parts) is promoted or jeopardized by its circumstances. In contrast, the events that lead up to the simple response are anything but simple and demand no less than the integration of a vastly complex spatiotemporal pattern of stimulation of the body. It has been a goal of this chapter to enlarge the reader's appreciation of the variety of mechanisms by which this is achieved.

It may also have struck the reader that the study of the thermal senses has been a multidisciplinary affair involving the insights of the physicist, physiologist, and psychologist. Indeed, the study of the senses in general has benefited from a blending of their peculiar methods, history, objectives, and fads. At times these practitioners have proceeded as if the others did not exist, sometimes with the admitted vision that single-mindedness affords, at other times, though, with the blindness that provincial isolation inflicts. At still other times, but rarely, one individual is able to do the work of all three, as for example Helmholtz and others in the visual domain, von Békésy in the auditory, and J. D. Hardy in his lifetime career devoted to the study of human responses to the thermal environment ( Hardy, Gagge, & Stolwijk, 1970; Stevens & Green, 1978a). The multidisciplinary spirit that Hardy and his many collaborators breathed in the middle half of our century, with its respect for the insights and tools of many, could well serve as inspiration for the future.


Preparation supported by Grant No. NS 15419 from the National Institutes of Health.


Abramson M., & Lovas P. M. ( 1988). Aging and sensory change: An annotated bibliography. Washington, DC: Gerontological Society of America.

Alrutz S. ( 1898). "On the temperature senses: II. The sensation hot." Mind, 7(2), 140-144.


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