Touch influences visual perception with a tight orientation-tuning,PLoS One, 11 (8), e79558.
Stimuli from different sensory modalities are thought to be processed initially in distinct unisensory brain areas prior to convergence in multisensory areas. However, signals in one modality can influence the processing of signals from other modalities and recent studies suggest this cross-modal influence may occur early on, even in ‘unisensory’ areas. Some recent psychophysical studies have shown specific cross-modal effects between touch and vision during binocular rivalry, but these cannot completely rule out a response bias. To test for genuine cross-modal integration of haptic and visual signals, we investigated whether congruent haptic input could influence visual contrast sensitivity compared to incongruent haptic input in three psychophysical experiments using a two-interval, two-alternative forced-choice method to eliminate response bias. The initial experiment demonstrated that contrast thresholds for a visual grating were lower when exploring a haptic grating that shared the same orientation compared to an orthogonal orientation. Two subsequent experiments mapped the orientation and spatial frequency tunings for the congruent haptic facilitation of vision, finding a clear orientation tuning effect but not a spatial frequency tuning. In addition to an increased contrast sensitivity for iso-oriented visual-haptic gratings, we found a significant loss of sensitivity for orthogonally oriented visual-haptic gratings. We conclude that the tactile influence on vision is a result of a tactile input to orientation-tuned visual areas.