Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Gestalt Grouping Effects on Tactile Information Processing: When Touching Hands Override Spatial Proximity

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Gestalt Grouping Effects on Tactile Information Processing: When Touching Hands Override Spatial Proximity

Article excerpt

Published online: 10 January 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Using a tactile variant of the negative-priming paradigm, we analyzed the influence of Gestalt grouping on the ability of participants to ignore distracting tactile information. The distance between participants' hands, to which the target and distractor stimuli were simultaneously delivered, was varied (near/touching hands vs. hands far apart). In addition, the influence of touching hands was controlled, as participants wore gloves and their hands were blocked from vision by a cover. The magnitude of the tactile negative-priming effect was modulated by the interaction between hand separation and whether or not gloves were worn. When the hands were touching, negative priming emerged only while wearing gloves that prevented direct skin-to-skin contact. In contrast, when the separation be- tween the participants' hands was larger, negative priming emerged only when gloves were not worn. This pattern of results is interpreted in terms of the competing influences of two interacting Gestalt principles-namely, connectedness and proximity-on the processing of tactile distractors.

Keywords Touch · Grouping and segmentation · Negative priming

At every waking moment, a wealth of information from the various sensory systems is processed by our brains. How- ever, the efficient control of action requires that only certain features of particular stimulus representations be frilly pro- cessed, and subsequently used to guide our actions (e.g., Allport, 1987). It is now widely believed that selective attention helps us to find, and preferentially process, rele- vant information at the expense of less relevant information. In fact, selection is considered to represent one of the principal functions of attention (see Pashler, 1998; Spence, 2010). By and large, it has been assumed that selection is achieved through the facilitation of the processing of rele- vant stimuli and/or the inhibition (or ignoring) of irrelevant stimuli. In the present article, the focus is on the latter process-that is, on the ignoring of irrelevant tactile infor- mation (i.e., distractors).

Abundant evidence now supports unimodal selection in the visual and auditory modalities (see, e.g., Allport, 1993; Johnston & Dark, 1986; Spence, 2010). Yet, to date, few studies have attempted to analyze distractor processing within the tactile modality (see Frings, Amendt, & Spence, 2011; Frings, Bader, & Spence, 2008; Frings & Spence, 2010; Gallace & Spence, in press; Moeller & Frings, 2011; Spence & Gallace, 2007). So far, it seems that established experimental paradigms such as the negative-priming task (Tipper, 1985; see Fox, 1995, for a review), which are assumed to tap the ignoring of distractors, work just as effectively in touch as in vision. Intriguingly, though, the magnitude of negative priming seems to be larger in the tactile modality than in vision (cf. Frings et al., 2011).

In a similar vein, stimulus-response binding effects have been demonstrated in the tactile modality that are compara- ble to those documented previously in vision (see Zmigrod, Spapé, & Hommel, 2009). In fact, the integration of stimu- lus features (irrespective of feature modality) with response features into coherent stimulus-response episodes appears to be modality-independent. For example, repeating a visual stimulus with a certain response will lead to beneficial effects if the response is also repeated; the same holds frue for tactile stimuli (Zmigrod et al., 2009). Furthermore, Moeller and Frings (2011) recently provided evidence dem- onstrating the influence of stimulus-response binding on the processing of tactile distractors; that is, the co-occurrence of a tactile distractor with a particular response leads to the integration of the distractor and the response into one mem- ory entry that could be retrieved by another presentation of the distractor. …

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