Spatial summation in the tactile sensory system: Probability summation and neural integration

George A. Gescheider, Burak Güçlü, Jessica L. Sexton, Sarah Karalunas, Anne Fontana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Psychophysical thresholds for the detection of a 300-Hz burst of vibration applied to the thenar eminence were measured for stimuli applied to the skin through 1.5 cm2 and through 0.05 cm2 contactors. Thresholds were approximately 13 dB lower when the area of the contactor was 1.5 cm2 than when it was 0.05cm2. The difference between the thresholds measured with the large and small contactors was significantly reduced when only the lowest thresholds obtained in the testing sessions were considered. This result supports the hypothesis that one component of spatial summation in the P channel is probability summation. In addition, threshold measurements within a session were less variable when measured with the 1.5cm2 contactor. We conclude that spatial summation in the P channel is a joint function of two processes that occur as the areal extent of the stimulus increases: probability summation in which the probability of exceeding the psychophysical detection threshold increases as the number of receptors of varying sensitivities increases, and neural integration in which neural activity originating from separate receptors is combined within the central nervous system rendering the channel more sensitive to the stimulus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-268
Number of pages14
JournalSomatosensory and Motor Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Mechanoreception
  • Neural integration
  • Pacinian corpuscles
  • Probability summation
  • Somatosensation
  • Spatial summation
  • Tactile sensitivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Sensory Systems


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