Optimal visual-haptic integration with articulated tools

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When we feel and see an object, the nervous system integrates visual and haptic information optimally, exploiting the redundancy in multiple signals to estimate properties more precisely than is possible from either signal alone. We examined whether optimal integration is similarly achieved when using articulated tools. Such tools (tongs, pliers, etc) are a defining characteristic of human hand function, but complicate the classical sensory ‘correspondence problem’ underlying multisensory integration. Optimal integration requires establishing the relationship between signals acquired by different sensors (hand and eye) and, therefore, in fundamentally unrelated units. The system must also determine when signals refer to the same property of the world—seeing and feeling the same thing—and only integrate those that do. This could be achieved by comparing the pattern of current visual and haptic input to known statistics of their normal relationship. Articulated tools disrupt this relationship, however, by altering the geometrical relationship between object properties and hand posture (the haptic signal). We examined whether different tool configurations are taken into account in visual–haptic integration. We indexed integration by measuring the precision of size estimates, and compared our results to optimal predictions from a maximum-likelihood integrator. Integration was near optimal, independent of tool configuration/hand posture, provided that visual and haptic signals referred to the same object in the world. Thus, sensory correspondence was determined correctly (trial-by-trial), taking tool configuration into account. This reveals highly flexible multisensory integration underlying tool use, consistent with the brain constructing internal models of tools’ properties.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1361-1373
Number of pages13
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Early online date18 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - May 2017

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