Queen's University

Department of


Department of


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The Touch Lab
Susan Lederman, PhD, Professor Emerita, Email: susan.lederman@queensu.ca

Scope of Research Programme:

Basic research in the Touch Lab has focused for many years now on the sense of touch in humans. The work has examined how people learn about the world around them through haptic exploration and manipulation. Topics have included, for example,

  • the haptic perception of object and surface properties (e.g., texture, hardness, thermal properties, shape, size, weight, function, etc.)
  • the haptic recognition and identification of common and unfamiliar multidimensional objects by children, young adults, and older adults
  • the "haptic glance": relative availability of properties of surfaces and objects during early haptic processing
  • the nature and role of manual exploration
  • haptic space perception in the sighted and the blind
  • intersensory integration and multimodal perception (vision, audition and touch)
  • perceiving objects and surface properties through an intermediate probe
  • haptic face processing of identity and emotions by blindfolded sighted, prosopagnosic, and blind individuals
  • sensory-guided motor control of prehension, with and without vision.

Behavioural approaches typically include a variety of psychophysical, perceptual and cognitive procedures, the classification of videotaped hand movements that accompany manual exploration during haptic search, response latencies, errors, oral/written questionnaire responses, and kinematic and dynamic measures of hand/arm movements.

Neuroscience approaches include the use of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging procedures) to study brain activation during the performance of various tasks in real time, and the participation of both neurologically intact and neurologically impaired populations (e.g., congenitally blind, blind diabetic, prosopagnosic).

Some of the applications of this work include:

  • the design of tangible graphics for the blind (e.g., raised maps, pictures, graphs, etc.)
  • the design of a raised tactile texture feature and tactile code that enable blind individuals to denominate the new Canadian banknotes by touch
  • the behavioural assessment of sensorimotor hand function following peripheral nerve damage (e.g., from diabetes, accident, etc.) and consequent surgical repair
  • the design of tactile or haptic sensing systems for autonomous robots equipped with tactile, force and position sensors embedded in robotic end effectors
  • the design of a tactile shape display using RC servomotors
  • the design of haptic interfaces for teleoperation and virtual environment systems involving the participation of a human operator in the control loop. Broadly speaking, my work addresses the capabilities and limitations of the human haptic system, from sensory/perceptual, cognitive and motor perspectives. Such information is critical in designing haptic interfaces that can be efficiently and comfortably controlled by the operator (e.g., e-commerce, e-communication). In addition, our work offers scientifically-based methods for evaluating actual performance with haptic interface systems
  • rendering virtual textures for use in virtual-environment applications.


Examples of Research Projects:

Illustration of haptic    Haptics

    haptic perception, recognition and identification of objects and their properties (PDF, 18 KB)
    haptic processing of identity and location from a "haptic glance" (PDF, 13 KB)
    haptic space perception in the sighted and the blind (PDF, 23 KB)
    haptic perception of surfaces and objects with a rigid probe (PDF, 10 KB)
    manual exploration in young children (PDF, 9 KB)
    human hand function (PDF, 18 KB)
    haptic face processing (PDF, 26 KB)
    fMRI studies on tactile/haptic processing of objects and their properties (PDF, 13 KB)
    haptic perceptual organization in haptic perception and grasping (PDF, 24 KB)
    haptic vs. visual mental body representations (PDF, 19 KB)

Illustration of hand placing key in keyhole

    Sensory-guided Motor Control

    the role of vision in manipulating a familiar object (PDF, 8 KB)
    anticipating torques produced by lifting and moving objects (PDF, 12 KB)
    the independence of perception and action channels (PDF, 8 KB)







Image of hand operating test device with computer screen in backgroundHaptic Interfaces for Teleoperation and Virtual Environment Systems

    creation and psychophysical assessment of virtual haptic textures (PDF, 15 KB)
    designing haptic interfaces: assessing the need for spatially distributed forces to the fingertips (PDF, 8 KB)
    a tactile shape display (PDF, 8 KB)