The Spatial Spectrum of Tangential Skin Displacement Can Encode Tactual Texture

  • Wiertlewski Michael
  • Lozada José
  • Hayward Vincent


The tactual scanning of five naturalistic textures was recorded with an apparatus capable of measuring the tangential interaction force with a high degree of temporal and spatial resolution. The resulting signal showed that the transformation from the geometry of a surface to the force of traction, and hence to the skin deformation experienced by a finger is a highly nonlinear process. Participants were asked to identify simulated textures reproduced by stimulating their fingers with rapid, imposed lateral skin displacements as a function of net position. They performed the identification task with a high degree of success, yet not perfectly. The fact that the experimental conditions eliminated many aspects of the interaction, including low-frequency finger deformation, distributed information, as well as normal skin movements, shows that the nervous system is able to rely on only two cues: amplitude and spectral information. The examination of the " spatial spectrograms " of the imposed lateral skin displacement revealed that texture could be represented spatially despite being sensed through time and that these spectrograms were distinctively organized into what could be called " spatial formants ". This finding led us to speculate that the mechanical properties of the finger enables spatial information to be used for perceptual purposes in humans without any distributed sensing, a principle that could be applied to robots.