Size-sensitive perceptual representations underlie visual and haptic object recognition

Matt Craddock, University of Liverpool

Rebecca Lawson, University of Liverpool

A variety of similarities between visual and haptic object recognition suggests that the two modalities may share common representations. However, it is unclear whether such common representations preserve low-level perceptual features or whether transfer between vision and haptics is mediated by high-level, abstract representations. Two experiments used a sequential shape-matching task to examine the effects of size changes on unimodal and crossmodal visual and haptic object recognition. Participants felt or saw 3D plastic models of familiar objects. The two objects presented on a trial were either the same size or different sizes and were the same shape or different but similar shapes. Participants were told to ignore size changes and to match on shape alone. In Experiment 1, size changes on same-shape trials impaired performance similarly for both visual-to-visual and haptic-to-haptic shape matching. In Experiment 2, size changes impaired performance on both visual-to-haptic and haptic-to-visual shape matching and there was no interaction between the cost of size changes and direction of transfer. Together the unimodal and crossmodal matching results suggest that the same, size-specific perceptual representations underlie both visual and haptic object recognition, and indicate that crossmodal memory for objects must be at least partly based on common perceptual representations.

PLoS ONE, (2009), 4, e8009. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008009.