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Article

The intensity order illusion: temporal order of different vibrotactile intensity causes systematic localization errors

Journal of Neurophysiology. 2019. Vol. 122. No. 4. P. 1810-1820.

Haptic illusions serve as important tools for studying neurocognitive processing of touch and can be utilized in practical contexts. We report a new spatiotemporal haptic illusion that involves mislocalization when the order of vibrotactile intensity is manipulated. We tested two types of motors mounted in a 4 × 4 array in the lower thoracic region. We created apparent movement with two successive vibrotactile stimulations of varying distance (40, 20, or 0 mm) and direction (up, down, or same) while changing the temporal order of stimulation intensity (strong-weak vs. weak-strong). Participants judged the perceived direction of movement in a 2-alternative forced-choice task. The results suggest that varying the temporal order of vibrotactile stimuli with different intensity leads to systematic localization errors: when a strong-intensity stimulus was followed by a weak-intensity stimulus, the probability that participants perceived a downward movement increased, and vice versa. The illusion is so strong that the order of the strength of stimulation determined perception even when the actual presentation movement was the opposite. We then verified this “intensity order illusion” using an open response format where observers judged the orientation of an imaginary line drawn between two sequential tactor activations. The intensity order illusion reveals a strong bias in vibrotactile perception that has strong implications for the design of haptic information systems.