An Adaptation-Induced Repulsion Illusion in Tactile Spatial Perception
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Following focal sensory adaptation, the perceived separation between visual stimuli that straddle the adapted region is often exaggerated. For instance, in the tilt aftereffect illusion, adaptation to tilted lines causes subsequently viewed lines with nearby orientations to be perceptually repelled from the adapted orientation. Repulsion illusions in the nonvisual senses have been less studied. Here, we investigated whether adaptation induces a repulsion illusion in tactile spatial perception. In a two-interval forced-choice task, participants compared the perceived separation between two point-stimuli applied on the forearms successively. Separation distance was constant on one arm (the reference) and varied on the other arm (the comparison). In Experiment 1, we took three consecutive baseline measurements, verifying that in the absence of manipulation, participants' distance perception was unbiased across arms and stable across experimental blocks. In Experiment 2, we vibrated a region of skin on the reference arm, verifying that this focally reduced tactile sensitivity, as indicated by elevated monofilament detection thresholds. In Experiment 3, we applied vibration between the two reference points in our distance perception protocol and discovered that this caused an illusory increase in the separation between the points. We conclude that focal adaptation induces a repulsion aftereffect illusion in tactile spatial perception. The illusion provides clues as to how the tactile system represents spatial information. The analogous repulsion aftereffects caused by adaptation in different stimulus domains and sensory systems may point to fundamentally similar strategies for dynamic sensory coding.
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