Time Course of Information Processing in Visual and Haptic Object Classification


Vision identifies objects rapidly and efficiently. In contrast, object recognition by touch is much slower. Furthermore, haptics usually serially accumulates information from different parts of objects, whereas vision typically processes object information in parallel. Is haptic object identification slower simply due to sequential information acquisition and the resulting memory load or due to more fundamental processing differences between the senses? To compare the time course of visual and haptic object recognition, we slowed visual processing using a novel, restricted viewing technique. In an electroencephalographic (EEG) experiment, participants discriminated familiar, nameable from unfamiliar, unnamable objects both visually and haptically. Analyses focused on the evoked and total fronto-central theta-band (5– 7,Hz; a marker of working memory) and the occipital upper alpha-band (10– 12,Hz; a marker of perceptual processing) locked to the onset of classification. Decreases in total upper alpha-band activity for haptic identification of objects indicate a likely processing role of multisensory extrastriate areas. Long-latency modulations of alpha-band activity differentiated between familiar and unfamiliar objects in haptics but not in vision. In contrast, theta-band activity showed a general increase over time for the slowed-down visual recognition task only. We conclude that haptic object recognition relies on common representations with vision but also that there are fundamental differences between the senses that do not merely arise from differences in their speed of processing.

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
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