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PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles
Geriatrics - Neuroscience - Physiology

Cognitive and Tactile Factors Affecting Human Haptic Performance in Later Life
Published: Monday, January 23, 2012
Author: Tobias Kalisch et al.

by Tobias Kalisch, Jan-Christoph Kattenstroth, Rebecca Kowalewski, Martin Tegenthoff, Hubert R. Dinse

Background

Vision and haptics are the key modalities by which humans perceive objects and interact with their environment in a target-oriented manner. Both modalities share higher-order neural resources and the mechanisms required for object exploration. Compared to vision, the understanding of haptic information processing is still rudimentary. Although it is known that haptic performance, similar to many other skills, decreases in old age, the underlying mechanisms are not clear. It is yet to be determined to what extent this decrease is related to the age-related loss of tactile acuity or cognitive capacity.

Methodology/Principal Findings

We investigated the haptic performance of 81 older adults by means of a cross-modal object recognition test. Additionally, we assessed the subjects' tactile acuity with an apparatus-based two-point discrimination paradigm, and their cognitive performance by means of the non-verbal Raven-Standard-Progressive matrices test. As expected, there was a significant age-related decline in performance on all 3 tests. With the exception of tactile acuity, this decline was found to be more distinct in female subjects. Correlation analyses revealed a strong relationship between haptic and cognitive performance for all subjects. Tactile performance, on the contrary, was only significantly correlated with male subjects' haptic performance.

Conclusions

Haptic object recognition is a demanding task in old age, especially when it comes to the exploration of complex, unfamiliar objects. Our data support a disproportionately higher impact of cognition on haptic performance as compared to the impact of tactile acuity. Our findings are in agreement with studies reporting an increase in co-variation between individual sensory performance and general cognitive functioning in old age.

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