Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Extensive Occupational Finger Use Delays Age Effects in Tactile Perception-An ERP Study

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Extensive Occupational Finger Use Delays Age Effects in Tactile Perception-An ERP Study

Article excerpt

Published online: 7 March 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Tactile expertise, resulting from extensive use of hands, has previously been shown to improve tactile perception in blind people and musicians and to be associated with changes in the central processing of tactile information. This study investigated whether expertise, due to precise and deliberate use of the fingers at work, relates to improved tactile perception and whether this expertise interacts with age. A tactile pattern and a frequency discrimination task were conducted while ERPs were measured in experts and nonexperts of two age groups within middle adulthood. Independently of age, accuracy was better in experts than in nonexperts in both tasks. Somatosensory N70 amplitudes were larger with increasing age and for experts than for nonexperts. P100 amplitudes were smaller in experts than in nonexperts in the frequency discrimination task. In the pattern discrimination task, P300 difference wave amplitude was reduced in experts and late middle-aged adults. In the frequency discrimination task, P300 was more equally distributed in late middle-aged adults. We conclude that extensive, dexterous manual work leads to acquisition of tactile expertise and that this expertise might delay, but not counteract, age effects on tactile perception. Comparable neurophysiological changes induced by age and expertise presumably have different underlying mechanisms. Enlarged somatosensory N70 amplitudes might result from reduced inhibition in older adults but from enhanced, specific excitability of the somatosensory cortex in experts. Regarding P300, smaller amplitudes might indicate fewer available resources in older adults and, by contrast, a reduced need to engage as much cognitive effort to the task in experts.

Keywords Touch perception . Somatosensory perception . Aging . Expertise . Plasticity

Blind Braille readers have superior tactile abilities, as compared with people with normal vision (Frings, Amendt, & Spence, 2011; Goldreich & Kanics, 2003, 2006; Pascual- Leone & Torres, 1993; Van Boven, Hamilton, Kauffman, Keenan, & Pascual-Leone, 2000). Musicians, including string instrumentalists and pianists, have been shown to have different cortical representations of tactile stimuli (Elbert, Pantev, Wienbruch, Rockstroh, & Taub, 1995) and to perform better in tactile tasks than other individuals (Ragert, Schmidt, Altenmüller, & Dinse, 2004; Wong, Gnanakumaran, & Goldreich, 2011).This superior performance in tactile perception is likely due to the extensive use-dependent stimulation of the fingers (Ragert et al., 2004; Wong et al., 2011).

Whether other work-related tactile expertise acquired during many years of on-the-job training of manual dexterity is beneficial for touch perception is not known. Existing findings are inconsistent and even include reports of reduced tactile perception as a consequence of extensive hand use (Hilsenrat & Reiner, 2010; Shahbazian, Bertrand, Abarca, & Jacobs, 2009; Tremblay, Mireault, Létourneau, Pierrat, & Bourrassa, 2002). In our own previous study on age- and expertiserelated differences in touch perception, we compared experts in finger dexterity (e.g., precession mechanics) with nonexperts (e.g., service employees) with regard to tactile and haptic performance (Reuter, Voelcker-Rehage, Vieluf, & Godde, 2012). We did not find significant support for the assumption that frequent use of the hands in the workplace improves touch perception in the right hand (Reuter et al., 2012). However, in right-handed people, the right hand is extensively used in everyday manual tasks, too. Thus, beneficial effects of work-related expertise might have been masked.

Expertise and aging

Age-related changes, such as increased tactile thresholds (Bowden & McNulty, 2013; Deshpande, Metter, Ling, Conwit, & Ferrucci, 2008; Dinse, 2006; Reuter et al., 2012; Tremblay, Wong, Sanderson, & Cote, 2003) and reduced performance in tactile discrimination tasks (Manning & Tremblay, 2006; Master, Larue, & Tremblay, 2010; Reuter et al. …

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