A critical speed for gating of tactile detection during voluntary movement
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This study addressed the paradoxical observation that movement is essential for tactile exploration, and yet is accompanied by movement-related gating or suppression of tactile detection. Knowing that tactile gating covaries with the speed of movement (faster movements, more gating), we hypothesized that there would be no tactile gating at slower speeds of movement, corresponding to speeds commonly used during tactile exploration (<200 mm/s). Subjects (n = 21) detected the presence or absence of a weak electrical stimulus applied to the skin of the right middle finger during two conditions: rest and active elbow extension. Movement speed was systematically varied from 50 to ~1,000 mm/s. No subject showed evidence of tactile gating at the slowest speed tested, 50 mm/s (rest versus movement), but all subjects showed decreased detection at one or more higher speeds. For each subject, we calculated the critical speed, corresponding to the speed at which detection fell to 0.5 (chance). The mean critical speed was 472 mm/s and >200 mm/s in almost all subjects (19/21). This result is consistent with our hypothesis that subjects optimize the speed of movement during tactile exploration to avoid speeds associated with tactile gating. This strategy thus maximizes the quality of the tactile feedback generated during tactile search and improves perception.
KeywordsTactile detection Movement-related gating Tactile exploration Somatosensory Psychophysics
The authors would like to thank the following for providing excellent technical assistance: R. Albert, the late R. Bouchoux, M. Bourdeau, and C. Valiquette. We thank Dr. Trevor Drew for his helpful comments on the manuscript. The research was supported by an operating grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (253438) and operating (MOP—14454) and Group grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Université de Montréal, as well as an infrastructure grant from the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec. Dr. Anita Cybulska-Klosowicz was supported by the H. Jasper fellowship from the Groupe de recherche sur le système nerveux central (GRSNC). Mélissa Raby was supported by a bursary from the Department of Physiology. Marie-Line Lemieux was supported by a bursary from the Faculty of Medicine (COPSE).
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