Haptic curvature comparison of convex and concave shapes

Bernard J. Van der Horst, Astrid M L Kappers

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


A sculpture and the mould in which it was formed are typical examples of objects with an identical, but opponent, surface shape: each convex (ie outward pointing) surface part of a sculpture has a concave counterpart in the mould. The question arises whether the object features of opponent shapes can be compared by touch. Therefore, we investigated whether human observers were able to discriminate the curvatures of convex and concave shapes, irrespective of whether the shape was convex or concave. Using a 2AFC procedure, subjects had to compare the curvature of a convex shape to the curvature of a concave shape. In addition, results were also obtained for congruent shapes, when the curvature of either only convex shapes or only concave shapes had to be compared. Psychometric curves were fitted to the data to obtain threshold and bias results. When subjects explored the stimuli with a single index finger, significantly higher thresholds were obtained for the opponent shapes than for the congruent shapes. However, when the stimuli were touched by two index fingers, one finger per surface, we found similar thresholds. Systematic biases were found when the curvature of opponent shapes was compared: the curvature of a more curved convex surface was judged equal to the curvature of a less curved concave surface. We conclude that human observers had the ability to compare the curvature of shapes with an opposite direction, but that their performance decreased when they sensed the opponent surfaces with the same finger. Moreover, they systematically underestimated the curvature of convex shapes compared to the curvature of concave shapes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1137-1151
Number of pages15
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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