Connection Between Eyes and Touch May Help People Perceive the World

Anahita Kodali, Life Sciences, News, Summer 2020

Figure 1: Durian is the world’s smelliest fruit. Though the flavor itself is pleasant and sweet, many people cannot stomach more than a bite because of its powerful smell.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Humans have five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. These senses allow people to collect information about their environment. Often, the senses work together, allowing them to make better sense of the world. For example, the senses of smell and taste are known to be directly connected. When a food has a strong odor, it will influence how the body perceives its flavor – even if it has a mild, pleasant taste, if its odor is unpleasant, the body will taste the bad flavor first1. Scientists have also established a relationship between sight and hearing. The “McGurk effect” describes the phenomenon in which a person who listens to audio of the word “bah” while watching another person mouth “fah” will hear “fah,” even though the person is saying something else2. Sight and hearing also work in tandem to help with spatial awareness; when sight and hearing are disrupted, people may find it difficult to navigate or properly process sound cues3.

Researchers from New York University have established a new connection between sight and touch. Professor Marisa Carrasco’s team asked participants to distinguish between fast and slow vibrations created by a device connected to their fingers while focusing their vision on a point on a computer screen. In the study, a tap on the finger made by the device acted as a cue for the start of the next vibration. While the participants were experiencing the taps and different vibrations, the team was tracking tiny, involuntary eye movements called micro-saccades4 (these occur even when humans focus on one object in their field of view5). By manipulating the amount of time in between the cue and the vibration, some participants were able to more accurately predict when the next vibration was coming. The researchers found that when participants were more precisely predicting vibrations, their micro-saccades slowed significantly. In addition, the participants’ ability to distinguish between fast and slow vibrations was directly related to their ability to suppress micro-saccades4.

Professor Carrasco explained that these findings suggest that there are areas of the brain that are linked by vision and hearing5. In the future, this study will undoubtedly lead to more research in the fields of cognition and perception as scientists try to better understand how the brain makes sense of the outside world.

 

Bibliography

[1] Taste-Smell Connection. (n.d.). Retrieved July 09, 2020, from https://www.scienceworld.ca/resource/taste-smell-connection/

[2] Tiippana, K. (2014, June 23). What is the McGurk effect? Retrieved July 09, 2020, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00725/full

[3] McCormick, B. (2014, September 09). The Important Role Spatial Awareness Plays in Hearing: Starkey Blog. Retrieved July 09, 2020, from https://www.starkey.com/blog/articles/2014/09/the-important-role-of-spatial-awareness-in-the-hearing-process

[4] Badde, S. Myers, C. F. Yuval-Greenberg, S. Carrasco, M. (2020). Oculomotor freezing reflects tactile temporal expectation and aids tactile perception. Nature Communications; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-17160-1

[5] New York University. (2020, July 6). New connection between the eyes and touch discovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 9, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200706140909.htm

 

 

 

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