Haptic perception

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Haptic perception (Greek: haptόs “palpable”, haptikόs “suitable for touch”) literally denominates "to grasp something". Perception in this case is achieved through active exploration of surfaces and objects by a moving subject as opposed to passive contact of a static subject during tactile perception.[1] The term Haptik was coined by the German Psychologist Max Dessoir who suggested in 1892 to name the academic research about the sense of touch in the style of “acoustics” and “optics”.[2][3]

Gibson (1966)[4] defined the haptic system as "The sensibility of the individual to the world adjacent to his body by use of his body". Gibson and others further emphasized what Weber had realized in 1851 - the close link between haptic perception and body movement: haptic perception is active exploration.

The concept of haptic perception is related to the concept of extended physiological proprioception according to which, when using a tool such as a stick, perceptual experience is transparently transferred to the end of the tool.

Haptic perception relies on the forces experienced during touch.[5] This research allows the creation of "virtual", illusory haptic shapes with different perceived qualities[6] which has clear application in haptic technology.[7]

Exploratory procedures

People can rapidly and accurately identify three-dimensional objects by touch.[8] They do so through the use of exploratory procedures, such as moving the fingers over the outer surface of the object or holding the entire object in the hand.[9]

The following exploratory procedures have been identified so far:

  1. lateral motion
  2. pressure
  3. enclosure
  4. contour following

Thus gathered object or subject properties are: size, weight, contour, surface and material characteristics, consistency and temperature.

Impairments of haptic sensitivity

Haptic sensitivity can be impaired by a multitude of diseases and disorders. Predominantly are skin injuries (insicions, burns etc.) and nerve lesions (through injury or impaired circulation). Additionally, loss of sensitivity (neuropathy) may be caused by metabolic, toxic and/or immunologic factors. Exemplary medical conditions that can cause neuropathies are: diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, thyroid dysfunction (hyper- and hypothyroidism) as well as hepatitis, liver cirrhosis and alcohol dependency.

Loss of the sense of touch is a catastrophic deficit that can impair walking and other skilled actions such as holding objects or using tools.

See also

Further reading

  • Grunwald, M. (Ed., 2008). Human haptic perception - Basics and Applications. Basel/Boston/Berlin: Birkhaeuser. ISBN 978-3-7643-7611-6
  • Lederman, S. J., & Klatzky, R. L. (1990). Haptic classification of common objects: Knowledge-driven exploration. Cognitive Psychology, 22, 421-459.
  • Montagu, A. (1971). Touching: The human significance of the skin. Oxford, England: Columbia U. Press.


  1. Weber, E. H. (1851). Die Lehre vom Tastsinne und Gemeingefühle auf Versuche gegründet. Friedrich Vieweg und Sohn.
  2. Dessoir, M. (1892). Über den Hautsinn. Arch. f. Anat. u. Physiol., Physiol. Abt., 175–339.
  3. Grunwald, M. & John, M. (2008). German pioneers of research into human haptic perception. In M. Grunwald (Ed.), Human Haptic Perception (pp. 15-39). Basel, Boston, Berlin: Birkhäuser.
  4. Gibson, J.J. (1966). The senses considered as perceptual systems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-313-23961-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Robles-De-La-Torre & Hayward. Force Can Overcome Object Geometry In the perception of Shape Through Active Touch. Nature 412 (6845):445-8 (2001).
  6. "The Cutting edge of haptics"
  7. Robles-De-La-Torre G. Principles of Haptic Perception in Virtual Environments. In Grunwald M (Ed.), Human Haptic Perception, Birkhäuser Verlag, 2008.
  8. Klatzky RL, Lederman SJ, & Metzger VA (1985). "Identifying objects by touch: An "expert system."". Perception & Psychophysics. 37 (37): 299–302. doi:10.3758/BF03211351.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Lederman SJ, & Klatzky RL (1987). "Hand movements: A window into haptic object recognition". Cognitive Psychology. 19 (3): 342–368. doi:10.1016/0010-0285(87)90008-9. PMID 3608405.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>