Multiple reference frames in haptic spatial processing

R. Volcic

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


The present thesis focused on haptic spatial processing. In particular, our interest was directed to the perception of spatial relations with the main focus on the perception of orientation. To this end, we studied haptic perception in different tasks, either in isolation or in combination with vision. The parallelity task, where participants have to match the orientations of two spatially separated bars, was used in its two-dimensional and three-dimensional versions in Chapter 2 and Chapter 3, respectively. The influence of non-informative vision and visual interference on performance in the parallelity task was studied in Chapter 4. A different task, the mental rotation task, was introduced in a purely haptic study in Chapter 5 and in a visuo-haptic cross-modal study in Chapter 6. The interaction of multiple reference frames and their influence on haptic spatial processing were the common denominators of these studies. In this thesis we approached the problems of which reference frames play the major role in haptic spatial processing and how the relative roles of distinct reference frames change depending on the available information and the constraints imposed by different tasks. We found that the influence of a reference frame centered on the hand was the major cause of the deviations from veridicality observed in both the two-dimensional and three-dimensional studies. The results were described by a weighted average model, in which the hand-centered egocentric reference frame is supposed to have a biasing influence on the allocentric reference frame. Performance in haptic spatial processing has been shown to depend also on sources of information or processing that are not strictly connected to the task at hand. When non-informative vision was provided, a beneficial effect was observed in the haptic performance. This improvement was interpreted as a shift from the egocentric to the allocentric reference frame. Moreover, interfering visual information presented in the vicinity of the haptic stimuli parametrically modulated the magnitude of the deviations. The influence of the hand-centered reference frame was shown also in the haptic mental rotation task where participants were quicker in judging the parity of objects when these were aligned with respect to the hands than when they were physically aligned. Similarly, in the visuo-haptic cross-modal mental rotation task the parity judgments were influenced by the orientation of the exploring hand with respect to the viewing direction. This effect was shown to be modulated also by an intervening temporal delay that supposedly counteracts the influence of the hand-centered reference frame. We suggest that the hand-centered reference frame is embedded in a hierarchical structure of reference frames where some of these emerge depending on the demands and the circumstances of the surrounding environment and the needs of an active perceiver.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Kappers, A.M.L., Primary supervisor
  • Koenderink, Jan, Supervisor
Award date29 Aug 2008
Print ISBNs978-90-6464-275-3
Publication statusPublished - 29 Aug 2008

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