Neural mechanisms of tactual form and texture perception

K. O. Johnson, S. S. Hsiao

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

286 Scopus citations


In the last decade or so, there has been rapid movement toward the use of more complex stimuli in the study of perceptual function related to the hand. This review has focused on the neural mechanisms of form and texture perception. Evidence from neurophysiological and psychophysical studies in which static touch, scanning touch, and the Optacon were used indicate that the spatial acuity of the RA system may be as much as three times poorer than the SAI system, evidence that suggests that form perception is dominated by the SAI system. Pattern recognition behavior in a tactual letter recognition task appears to be directly related to the response properties of SAI afferent fibers. Psychophysical studies of roughness perception show that roughness magnitude is related to surface structure in an orderly manner. Because roughness varies along an intensive continuum, mean impulse rate in one or more of the afferent systems is the most obvious coding possibility. No satisfactory relationship between mean impulse rate and roughness has been observed, however. The strongest hypothesis is that tactual roughness perception is based on spatial variation in the SAI population response. The combined evidence from studies reviewed here suggests complementary roles for each of the afferent systems, which are presented as working hypotheses: The SAI system is the primary spatial system and is responsible for tactual form and roughness perception when the fingers contact a surface directly and for the perception of external events through the distribution of forces across the skin surface. The PC system is responsible for the perception of external events that are manifested through transmitted high-frequency vibrations of the kind that are critical in the use of objects as tools. The RA system is responsible for the detection and representation of localized movement between skin and a surface as well as for surface form and texture when surface variation is too small to activate the SAI afferents effectively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-250
Number of pages24
JournalAnnual review of neuroscience
StatePublished - 1992
Externally publishedYes


  • neurophysiology
  • pattern recognition
  • psychophysics
  • roughness
  • tactile

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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