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Haptic object recognition is influenced by the orientation of the body relative to gravity


Barnett-Cowan,  M
Department Human Perception, Cognition and Action, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Barnett-Cowan, M., Culham, J., & Snow, J. (2012). Haptic object recognition is influenced by the orientation of the body relative to gravity. Talk presented at 13th International Multisensory Research Forum (IMRF 2012). Oxford, UK.

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The orientation at which objects are most easily recognized — the perceptual upright (PU) — is influenced by body orientation with respect to gravity. To date, the influence of these cues on object recognition has only been measured within the visual system. Here we investigate whether objects explored through touch alone are similarly influenced by body and gravitational information. Using the Oriented CHAracter Recognition Test (OCHART) adapted for haptics, blindfolded right-handed observers indicated whether the symbol ‘p’ presented in various orientations was the letter ‘p’ or ‘d’ following active touch. The average of ‘p-to-d’ and ‘d-to-p’ transitions was taken as the haptic PU. Sensory information was manipulated by positioning observers in different orientations relative to gravity with the head, body, and hand aligned. Results show that haptic object recognition is equally influenced by body and gravitational references frames, but with a constant leftward bias. This leftward bias in the haptic PU resembles leftward biases reported for visual object recognition. The influence of body orientation and gravity on the haptic PU was well predicted by an equally weighted vectorial sum of the directions indicated by these cues. Our results demonstrate that information from different reference frames influence the perceptual upright in haptic object recognition. Taken together with similar investigations in vision, our findings suggest that reliance on body and gravitational frames of reference helps maintain optimal object recognition. Equally relying on body and gravitational information may facilitate haptic exploration with an upright posture, while compensating for poor vestibular sensitivity when tilted.