Magnitude estimation of softness

Robert M. Friedman, Kim D. Hester, Barry G. Green, Robert H. LaMotte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


The human capacity to estimate the magnitude of softness of silicone rubber disks of differing compliance was studied under experimental conditions that altered the mode of contact. Subjects were able to scale softness regardless of whether they (1) actively indented each specimen by tapping or pressing it with the finger pad, (2) received passive indentation of the finger pad by each specimen via a force controlled tactile stimulator, thus eliminating kinesthetic cues, or (3) actively indented each specimen with a stylus that was manipulated either by tapping with one finger, or held by two fingers in a precision grip, thereby removing tactile cues provided by direct mechanical contact between the finger pad and specimen. Ratings of softness were independent of moderate variations in peak compressional force and force-rate. Additionally, functions for scaling softness were affected by the mode of contact; the slopes of the functions were greater in the tasks with a complete complement of compliance cues. When subjects were asked to classify objects as either hard or soft, specimens were classified as soft if the compliance were greater than that of the human finger. This suggests that the classification of softness depends on whether the object conforms to the body, and that tactile information about the spatial profile of object deformation is sufficient for the magnitude scaling of softness. But typically, kinesthetic information about the magnitude of object displacement, along with contact vibratory cues is also used while judging softness especially in the absence of direct skin contact with the object when using a tool.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-142
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Active touch
  • Compliance
  • Finger pad
  • Passive touch
  • Psychophysics
  • Tool use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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