The effects of aging on haptic 2D shape recognition

Krista E. Overvliet*, J. Wagemans, Ralf Th Krampe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We use the image-mediation model (Klatzky & Lederman, 1987) as a framework to investigate potential sources of adult age differences in the haptic recognition of two-dimensional (2D) shapes. This model states that the low-resolution, temporally sequential, haptic input is translated into a visual image, which is then reperceived through the visual processors, before it is matched against a long-term memory representation and named. In three experiments we tested groups of 12 older (mean age 73.11) and three groups of 12 young adults (mean age 22.80) each. In Experiment 1 we confirm age-related differences in haptic 2D shape recognition, and we show the typical age complexity interaction. In Experiment 2 we show that if we facilitate the visual translation process, age differences become smaller, but only with simple shapes and not with the more complex everyday objects. In Experiment 3 we target the last step in the model (matching and naming) for complex stimuli. We found that age differences in exploration time were considerably reduced when this component process was facilitated by providing a category name. We conclude that the image-mediation model can explain adult-age differences in haptic recognition, particularly if the role of working memory in forming the transient visual image is considered. Our findings suggest that sensorimotor skills thought to rely on peripheral processes for the most part are critically constrained by age-related changes in central processing capacity in later adulthood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1057-1069
Number of pages13
JournalPsychology and Aging
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


  • Aging
  • Haptics
  • Shape recognition
  • Touch
  • Working memory


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