Biases in tactile localization by pointing: compression for weak stimuli and centering for distributions of stimuli
School of Medical and Health Sciences
Weak electrocutaneous stimuli applied to the forearm are erroneously localized toward its middle (Steenbergen P, Buitenweg JR, Trojan J, Veltink PH. Exp Brain Res 232: 597-607, 2014). We asked whether mechanical touch stimuli exhibit a similar bias and whether the bias is toward the middle of the forearm or toward the middle of the recent stimulus distribution. In experiments 1 and 2, participants ( n = 12 and n = 10) localized by pointing von Frey filaments applied to four locations on the dorsal forearm. Individually adjusted weak and strong stimuli ( experiment 1) or two levels of strong stimuli ( experiment 2) were presented in single sessions in random order. Weaker stimuli were localized with greater variability than the strong, with compression toward the middle of the forearm. Responses to the two levels of strong stimuli did not differ. In experiment 3, participants ( n = 16) were presented two spatially offset stimulus distributions (8 cm center-to-center), each offset from the forearm middle, on 2 different days. Out of four target locations comprising each distribution, two were shared. Responses to weak stimuli were compressed compared with responses to strong stimuli. Importantly, biases for the common targets had opposite directions, each being toward the middle of the distribution within which targets were presented. Responses to strong stimuli also exhibited a distribution-dependent bias, a 2-cm overall shift across the forearm midpoint. We conclude that touch localization is subject to intensity-dependent biases determined by the recent history of stimulation and possibly also by the available or perceived response space. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Recent findings show that weak electrical stimuli applied to the forearm are mislocalized toward the forearm middle, relative to strong stimuli. We found that weak mechanical stimuli are similarly mislocalized. The bias changed if, as a group, stimuli were not centered on the forearm middle: weak stimuli gravitated toward the center of prior stimulation. Localization of strong stimuli was also biased, consistent with the tendency to center responses within the available response space.