We describe a computer-controlled tactile stimulator for use in human psychophysical and monkey neurophysiological studies of 3D shape perception. The stimulator is constructed primarily of commercially available parts, as well as a few custom-built pieces for which we will supply diagrams upon request. There are two components to the stimulator: a tactile component and a hand positioner component. The tactile component consists of multiple stimulating units that move about in a Cartesian plane above the restrained hand. Each stimulating unit contains a servo-controlled linear motor with an attached small rotary stepper motor, allowing arbitrary stimulus shapes to contact the skin through vibration, static indentation, or scanning. The hand positioner component modifies the conformation of the restrained hand through a set of mechanical linkages under motorized control. The present design controls the amount of spread between digits 2 and 3, the spread between digits 4 and 3, and the degree to which digit 3 is flexed or extended, thereby simulating different conformations of the hand in contact with objects. This design is easily modified to suit the needs of the experimenter. Because the two components of the stimulator are independently controlled, the stimulator allows for parametric study of the mechanoreceptive and proprioceptive contributions to 3D tactile shape perception.
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