Lost in the move? Secondary task performance impairs tactile change detection on the body.

Research paper by Alberto A Gallace, Sophia S Zeeden, Brigitte B Röder, Charles C Spence

Indexed on: 04 Aug '09Published on: 04 Aug '09Published in: Consciousness and Cognition


Change blindness, the surprising inability of people to detect significant changes between consecutively-presented visual displays, has recently been shown to affect tactile perception as well. Visual change blindness has been observed during saccades and eye blinks, conditions under which people's awareness of visual information is temporarily suppressed. In the present study, we demonstrate change blindness for suprathreshold tactile stimuli resulting from the execution of a secondary task requiring bodily movement. In Experiment 1, the ability of participants to detect changes between two sequentially-presented vibrotactile patterns delivered on their arms and legs was compared while they performed a secondary task consisting of either the execution of a movement with the right arm toward a visual target or the verbal identification of the target side. The results demonstrated that a motor response gave rise to the largest drop in perceptual sensitivity (as measured by changes in d') in detecting changes to the tactile display. In Experiment 2, we replicated these results under conditions in which the participants had to detect tactile changes while turning a steering wheel instead. These findings are discussed in terms of the role played by bodily movements, sensory suppression, and higher order information processing in modulating people's awareness of tactile information across the body surface.