Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 237, Issue 1, pp 237–246 | Cite as

Muscular effort differentially mediates perception of heaviness and length via dynamic touch

  • Madhur MangalamEmail author
  • James D. Conners
  • Tarkeshwar SinghEmail author
Research Article


Our ability to perceive properties of handheld objects (e.g., heaviness, orientation, length, width, and shape) by wielding via dynamic touch is crucial for tooling and other forms of object manipulation—activities that are the basis of much human experience. Here, we investigated how muscular effort mediates perception of heaviness and length via dynamic touch. Twelve participants wielded nine occluded elongated objects of distinct moments of inertia and reported their perceptual judgments of heaviness and length. We measured the electromyography (EMG) activity of the participants’ biceps brachii, flexor carpi radialis, and flexor carpi ulnaris muscles during wielding. Distinct single-valued functions of the eigenvalues I1 and I3 of the inertial tensor, I, closely predicted perceived heaviness and perceived length of the wielded objects. Perceived heaviness showed a direct and linear relationship with EMG activity of biceps brachii, flexor carpi radialis, and flexor carpi ulnaris. However, while perceived length showed a very weak relationship with EMG activity of biceps brachii, we found no association between perceived length and EMG activity of flexor carpi radialis and flexor carpi ulnaris. Our findings indicate that muscular effort contributes directly to perception of heaviness, but likely only serves as a medium for perception of length. While the same physical variable—i.e., the moment of inertia—provides the informational support for perception of heaviness and length, distinct psychophysiological processes underlie perception of heaviness and length via dynamic touch.


Effortful touch Exteroception Heaviness perception Length perception Moment of inertia 



We thank Jeffrey B. Wagman for calculating rotational inertias of the experimental objects. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their comments and insightful suggestions that generated much discussion among the present authors and helped significantly improve the final draft of this manuscript.

Author contributions

MM, JDC, and TS conceived and designed research; MM and JDC performed experiments; MM analyzed data; MM and TS interpreted results of experiments; MM prepared figures; MM, JDC, and TS drafted manuscript; MM, JDC, and TS edited and revised manuscript; MM, JDC, and TS approved final version of manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that no competing interests exist.


  1. Amazeen EL (1999) Perceptual independence of size and weight by dynamic touch. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 25:102–119. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amazeen EL, Turvey MT (1996) Weight perception and the haptic size–weight illusion are functions of the inertia tensor. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 22:213–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arzamarski R, Isenhower RW, Kay BA et al (2010) Effects of intention and learning on attention to information in dynamic touch. Atten Percept Psychophys 72:721–735. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bernstein NA (1967) The co-ordination and regulation of movements. Pergamon Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  5. Burton G, Turvey MT (1990) Perceiving the lengths of rods that are held but not wielded. Ecol Psychol 2:295–324. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burton G, Turvey MT, Solomon HY (1990) Can shape be perceived by dynamic touch? Percept Psychophys 48:477–487. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carello C, Turvey MT (2000) Rotational invariance and dynamic touch. In: Heller MA (ed) Touch, representation and blindness. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 27–66Google Scholar
  8. Carello C, Fitzpatrick P, Domaniewicz I et al (1992) Effortful touch with minimal movement. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 18:290–302. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carello C, Fitzpatrick P, Flascher I, Turvey MT (1998) Inertial eigenvalues, rod density, and rod diameter in length perception by dynamic touch. Percept Psychophys 60:89–100. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carello C, Thuot S, Anderson KL, Turvey MT (1999) Perceiving the sweet spot. Perception 28:307–320. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fitzpatrick P, Carello C, Turvey MT (1994) Eigenvalues of the inertia tensor and exteroception by the “muscular sense. Neuroscience 60:551–568. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gibson JJ (1966) The senses considered as perceptual systems. Houghton Mifflin, BostonGoogle Scholar
  13. Gibson JJ (1979) The ecological approach to visual perception. Houghton Mifflin, BostonGoogle Scholar
  14. Hajnal A, Fonseca S, Harrison S et al (2007a) Comparison of dynamic (effortful) touch by hand and foot. J Mot Behav 39:82–88. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hajnal A, Fonseca S, Kinsella-Shaw JM et al (2007b) Haptic selective attention by foot and by hand. Neurosci Lett 419:5–9. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hollerbach JM, Flash T (1982) Dynamic interactions between limb segments during planar arm movement. Biol Cybern 44:67–77. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Mangalam M, Barton SA, Wagman JB et al (2017) Perception of the length of an object through dynamic touch is invariant across changes in the medium. Atten Percept Psychophys 79:2499–2509. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Mangalam M, Wagman JB, Newell KM (2018) Temperature influences perception of the length of a wielded object via effortful touch. Exp Brain Res 236:505–516. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Pagano CC, Cabe PA (2003) Constancy in dynamic touch: length perceived by dynamic touch is invariant over changes in media. Ecol Psychol 15:1–17. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Pagano CC, Donahue KG (1999) Perceiving the lengths of rods wielded in different media. Percept Psychophys 61:1336–1344. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Pagano CC, Turvey MT (1992) Eigenvectors of the inertia tensor and perceiving the orientation of a hand-held object by dynamic touch. Percept Psychophys 52:617–624. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Pagano CC, Fitzpatrick P, Turvey MT (1993) Tensorial basis to the constancy of perceived object extent over variations of dynamic touch. Percept Psychophys 54:43–54. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Palatinus Z, Carello C, Turvey MT (2011) Principles of part–whole selective perception by dynamic touch extend to the torso. J Mot Behav 43:87–93. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Schleip R, Mechsner F, Zorn A, Klingler W (2014) The bodywide fascial network as a sensory organ for haptic perception. J Mot Behav 46:191–193. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Shin D, Kim J, Koike Y (2009) A myokinetic arm model for estimating joint torque and stiffness from EMG signals during maintained posture. J Neurophysiol 101:387–401. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Streit M, Shockley K, Riley MA (2007a) Rotational inertia and multimodal heaviness perception. Psychon Bull Rev 14:1001–1006. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Streit M, Shockley K, Riley MA, Morris AW (2007b) Rotational kinematics influence multimodal perception of heaviness. Psychon Bull Rev 14:363–367. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Turvey MT, Carello C (2011) Obtaining information by dynamic (effortful) touching. Philos Trans R Soc London B Biol Sci 366:3123–3132. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Turvey MT, Fonseca ST (2014) The medium of haptic perception: A tensegrity hypothesis. J Mot Behav 46:143–187. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Turvey MT, Burton G, Pagano CC et al (1992) Role of the inertia tensor in perceiving object orientation by dynamic touch. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 18:714–727. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Turvey MT, Burton G, Amazeen EL et al (1998) Perceiving the width and height of a hand-held object by dynamic touch. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 24:35–48. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Waddell ML, Amazeen EL (2017) Evaluating the contributions of muscle activity and joint kinematics to weight perception across multiple joints. Exp Brain Res 235:2437–2448. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Waddell ML, Amazeen EL (2018a) Leg perception of object heaviness. Ecol Psychol. Google Scholar
  34. Waddell ML, Amazeen EL (2018b) Lift speed moderates the effects of muscle activity on perceived heaviness. Q J Exp Psychol. Google Scholar
  35. Waddell ML, Fine JM, Likens AD et al (2016) Perceived heaviness in the context of Newton’s Second Law: Combined effects of muscle activity and lifting kinematics. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 42:363–374. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wagman JB, Hajnal A (2014) Getting off on the right (or left) foot: Perceiving by means of a rod attached to the preferred or non-preferred foot. Exp Brain Res 232:3591–3599. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wagman JB, Shockley K, Riley MA, Turvey MT (2001) Attunement, calibration, and exploration in fast haptic perceptual learning. J Mot Behav 33:323–327. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Wagman JB, Langley MD, Higuchi T (2017) Turning perception on its head: Cephalic perception of whole and partial length of a wielded object. Exp Brain Res 235:153–167. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Withagen R, Michaels CF (2005) The role of feedback information for calibration and attunement in perceiving length by dynamic touch. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 31:1379–1390. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.Department of KinesiologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  3. 3.Division of NeuroscienceUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

Personalised recommendations