8 Neural Mechanisms of Tactile Perception

Behavioral Neuroscience

  1. Steven S. Hsiao PhD1,2,
  2. Manuel Gomez-Ramirez PhD1,2

Published Online: 26 SEP 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781118133880.hop203008

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

How to Cite

Hsiao, S. S. and Gomez-Ramirez, M. 2012. Neural Mechanisms of Tactile Perception. Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition. 3:8.

Author Information

  1. 1

    Krieger Mind/Brain Institute, Department of Neuroscience, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

  2. 2

    Johns Hopkins University, Department of Neuroscience, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 26 SEP 2012


In this chapter, we first give a detailed description of the mechanoreceptive afferents that innervate the skin, muscles, tendons, and joints, and review the ascending and central cortical pathways that process the somatosensory inputs. We then discuss our current understanding of the neural mechanisms of two-dimensional spatial form processing, texture, vibration, tactile motion, and three-dimensional shape processing. We show that in the afferents there is an isomorphic representation of the surface. In the first somatosensory cortex the inputs are transformed to an altered representation with neurons having orientation, motion, and texture specific responses. The responses become more nonlinear as they progress centrally. The evidence suggests that while similar neural mechanisms are used in touch and vision for processing local spatial features, the neural mechanisms for processing global features of object size and shape are unique to the somatosensory system and involve the integration of cutaneous and proprioceptive inputs that provide information about where the cutaneous inputs are located in three-dimensional space. We also discuss the neural mechanisms of tactile selective attention and show that attention modifies not only the firing rate but also the degree of synchronous firing between neurons.


  • somatosensory;
  • tactile;
  • proprioception;
  • receptive fields;
  • selective attention