Haptic object perception begins with continuous exploratory contacts, and the human brain needs to accumulate sensory information continuously over time. However, it is still unclear how the primary sensorimotor cortex (PSC) interacts with these higher-level regions during haptic exploration across time. This functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study investigates time-dependent haptic object processing by examining brain activity during haptic 3D curve and roughness estimation. For this experiment, we designed sixteen haptic stimuli (4 kinds of curve x 4 kinds of roughness) for the haptic curve and roughness estimation tasks. Twenty participants were asked to move their right index and middle fingers along with the surface twice and to estimate one of the two features–roughness or curvature–dependent on the task instruction. We found that the brain activity in several higher-level regions (e.g., bilateral posterior parietal cortex) linearly increased with curvature through the haptic exploration phase. Surprisingly, we found that the contralateral PSC was parametrically modulated by the number of curves only during the late exploration phase, but not during the early exploration phase. In contrast, we found no similar parametric modulation activity patterns for haptic roughness estimation in either the contralateral PSC or in the higher-level regions. Together, our findings suggest that haptic 3D object perception is processed across the cortical hierarchy, while the contralateral PSC interacts with other higher-level regions across time in a manner that is dependent upon object features.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience