Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics

, Volume 81, Issue 2, pp 462–475 | Cite as

Top-down modulation of shape and roughness discrimination in active touch by covert attention

  • Anna MetzgerEmail author
  • Stefanie Mueller
  • Katja Fiehler
  • Knut Drewing


Due to limitations in perceptual processing, information relevant to momentary task goals is selected from the vast amount of available sensory information by top-down mechanisms (e.g. attention) that can increase perceptual performance. We investigated how covert attention affects perception of 3D objects in active touch. In our experiment, participants simultaneously explored the shape and roughness of two objects in sequence, and were told afterwards to compare the two objects with regard to one of the two features. To direct the focus of covert attention to the different features we manipulated the expectation of a shape or roughness judgment by varying the frequency of trials for each task (20%, 50%, 80%), then we measured discrimination thresholds. We found higher discrimination thresholds for both shape and roughness perception when the task was unexpected, compared to the conditions in which the task was expected (or both tasks were expected equally). Our results suggest that active touch perception is modulated by expectations about the task. This implies that despite fundamental differences, active and passive touch are affected by feature selective covert attention in a similar way.


Haptic perception Top-down Expectation Attention Roughness Shape Psychophysics 



This work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft SFB TRR 135, A05 & A04 and Fi 1567/4-2. Response and movement data of individual participants from all experiments presented here is available at We are grateful to Matteo Toscani and Matteo Valsecchi for helpful discussions and comments, Lorilei Alley for helping to improve grammar and style, Laura Wilhelm for help with data collection, and to Steffen Bruckbauer for help with the figures and for running the experiments within the framework of his Master’s thesis.


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anna Metzger
    • 1
    Email author
  • Stefanie Mueller
    • 1
  • Katja Fiehler
    • 1
  • Knut Drewing
    • 1
  1. 1.Justus-Liebig University GiessenGiessenGermany

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