Haptic interaction of touch and proprioception: Implications for neuroprosthetics

Liliana Rincon-Gonzalez, Jay P. Warren, David M. Meller, Stephen Helms Tillery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Somatosensation is divided into multiple discrete modalities that we think of separably: e.g., tactile, proprioceptive, and temperature sensation. However, in processes such as haptics, those modalities all interact. If one intended to artificially generate a sensation that could be used for stereognosis, for example, it would be crucial to understand these interactions. We are presently examining the relationship between tactile and proprioceptive modalities in this context. In this overview of some of our recent work, we show that signals that would normally be attributed to two of these systems separately, tactile contact and self-movement, interact both perceptually and physiologically in ways that complicate the understanding of haptic processing. In the first study described here, we show that a tactile illusion on the fingertips, the cutaneous rabbit effect, can be abolished by changing the posture of the fingers. We then discuss activity in primary somatosensory cortical neurons illustrating the interrelationship of tactile and postural signals. In this study, we used a robot-enhanced virtual environment to show that many neurons in primary somatosensory cortex with cutaneous receptive fields encode elements both of tactile contact and self-motion. We then show the results of studies examining the structure of the process which extracts the spatial location of the hand from proprioceptive signals. The structure of the spatial errors in these maps indicates that the proprioceptive-spatial map is stable but individually constructed. These seemingly disparate studies lead us to suggest that tactile sensation is encoded in a 2-D map, but one which undergoes continual dynamic modification by an underlying proprioceptive map. Understanding how the disparate signals that comprise the somatosensory system are processed to produce sensation is an important step in realizing the kind of seamless integration aspired to in neuroprosthetics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6035987
Pages (from-to)490-500
Number of pages11
JournalIEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2011


  • Muscle sense
  • prosthetics
  • somatosensation
  • tactile

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Rehabilitation


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