Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

The Neural Basis of Haptic Object Processing

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

The Neural Basis of Haptic Object Processing

Article excerpt


We review the organization of the neural networks that underlie haptic object processing and compare that organization with the visual system. Haptic object processing is separated into at least two neural pathways, one for geometric properties or shape, and one for material properties, including texture. Like vision, haptic processing pathways are organized into a hierarchy of processing stages, with different stages represented by different brain areas. In addition, the haptic pathway for shape processing may be further subdivided into different streams for action and perception. These streams may be analogous to the action and perception streams of the visual system and represent two points of neural convergence for vision and haptics.

Résumé Nous examinons l'organisation des réseaux neuronaux qui sous-tendent le traitement haptique des objets et comparons cette structure au système visuel. Le traitement haptique des objets est séparé en au moins deux circuits neuronaux : un pour les propriétés géométriques ou formes, et l'autre pour les propriétés physiques, dont la texture. Comme dans le cas de la vision, les circuits de traitement haptique sont organisés en une hiérarchie de stades de traitement, les différents stades étant représentés par des aires différentes du cerveau. De plus, le circuit haptique impliqué dans le traitement des formes peut être encore subdivisé en différentes voies pour l'analyse et la perception. Ces voies peuvent être analogues aux voies d'action et de perception du système visuel, et représentent deux points de convergence neuronale pour les modalités visuelle et haptique.

Object recognition is a fundamental cognitive operation performed countless times each day. Yet despite decades of research into the mechanisms of human object recognition, we have only the barest idea of how this complex problem is solved so efficiently by the brain. Routine object recognition seems effortless and automatic to us, yet attempts to create artificial systems that recognize objects in the way that humans do have had little practical success. One suggestion for the slow progress of artificial recognition systems is the reliance of those systems on purely visual input, even though objects in our environment are a source of incredibly rich multisensory stimulation. For instance, a glass containing a soft drink can produce sensations of taste and smell, but you can also see the glass, watch the bubbles move, reach out and feel the bubbles burst against your skin and even hear them fizz.

It is not a stretch to suggest that objects such as the soft drink are the rule, as opposed to the exception, in our world. It seems equally likely that when we are attempting to ascertain the identity of an object in our environment, we use all the information available, regardless of the sensory modality. However, despite the multisensory nature of real-world object recognition, until recently object recognition was almost exclusively studied using unisensory stimuli. Furthermore, the majority of those unisensory experiments used visual stimuli. Recently, though, there has been a surge of interest in multisensory phenomena, including multisensory object recognition (Calvert, Spence, & Stein, 2004). Because relatively less is known about how object recognition occurs using sensory inputs besides vision, the increased interest in multisensory recognition has led to increased interest in nonvisual unisensory object recognition.

Of the various candidate sensory systems besides vision by which objects can be recognized, perhaps the most actively studied has been touch. Here, we will distinguish between passive touch and haptics, which we define as active use of the hands to retrieve the attributes of an object stimulus, using both cutaneous and kinesthetic inputs. Haptic object recognition has been studied behaviourally and in patients with brain damage for many decades. It has been studied using neurophysiologic and neuroimaging techniques since their inception. …

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