Somatosensory comparison during haptic tracing

Erica J. Weiss, Martha Flanders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Active sensing involves memory retrieval and updating as well as mechanisms that trigger corrections to the ongoing exploratory movement. The present study examined this process in a task where human subjects moved the index fingertip clockwise around the circumference of a virtual sphere created by a robotic device. The fingertip pressed into the sphere during the movement, and the subjects were to report slight differences in sphere size (or surface curvature), which occurred from trial to trial. During each 2- to 3-s trial, subjects gradually adjusted their speed and pressure according to the current surface curvature, achieving a consistent level of contact force in the last half of the exploration. The results demonstrate that subjects were gradually accumulating haptic information about curvature and, at the same time, gradually changing the motor commands for the movement. When subjects encountered an unexpected transition in curvature (from circular to flat), they reacted by abruptly decreasing contact force at a latency of about 50 ms. This short latency indicates that spinally mediated corrections are engaged during this task. The results support the hypothesis that during haptic exploration, the neural comparison between expected and actual somatosensory feedback takes places at multiple levels, including the spinal cord.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)425-434
Number of pages10
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2011


  • corticospinal system
  • forward model
  • long-latency reflex
  • sensory filtering
  • spinal reflex


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