While the directionality of tactile motion processing has been studied extensively, tactile speed processing and its relationship to direction is little-researched and poorly understood. We investigated this relationship in humans using the ‘tactile speed aftereffect’ (tSAE), in which the speed of motion appears slower following prolonged exposure to a moving surface.
We used psychophysical methods to test whether the tSAE is direction sensitive. After adapting to a ridged moving surface with one hand, participants compared the speed of test stimuli on the adapted and unadapted hands. We varied the direction of the adapting stimulus relative to the test stimulus.
Perceived speed of the surface moving at 81 mms−1 was reduced by about 30% regardless of the direction of the adapting stimulus (when adapted in the same direction, Mean reduction = 23 mms−1, SD = 11; with opposite direction, Mean reduction = 26 mms−1, SD = 9). In addition to a large reduction in perceived speed due to adaptation, we also report that this effect is not direction sensitive.
Tactile motion is susceptible to speed adaptation. This result complements previous reports of reliable direction aftereffects when using a dynamic test stimulus as together they describe how perception of a moving stimulus in touch depends on the immediate history of stimulation. Given that the tSAE is not direction sensitive, we argue that peripheral adaptation does not explain it, because primary afferents are direction sensitive with friction-creating stimuli like ours (thus motion in their preferred direction should result in greater adaptation, and if perceived speed were critically dependent on these afferents’ response intensity, the tSAE should be direction sensitive). The adaptation that reduces perceived speed therefore seems to be of central origin.