£1M BBSRC grant awarded to study how aging influences sense of touch

Professor Alan Wing, together with Dr Massimiliano Di Luca, and Dr Roberta Roberts from the University of Birmingham and Dr Harriet Allen from the University of Nottingham, have been awarded a BBSRC Grant worth £1 million for a project that aims to understand how aging influences tactile surface perception in decision and action.

Over the course of a day, most people handle numerous items, grasping and manipulating them, at the same time running their hands and fingers over their surfaces.  The sensations evoked by touching surfaces (e.g. smooth vs. textured, soft vs. hard, sticky vs. slippery) and the effect of products that change the feel of touched objects (e.g. in washing dishes, fabrics, hair) can be essential to their usability and commercial success. Despite the importance of surface feel, researchers have only just started to understand how humans explore surfaces, what information receptors in skin and muscles capture about surface texture, how surface sensations are affected by multisensory signals, and how perception changes with age.

The University of Birmingham has partnered with the University of Nottingham and Procter and Gamble to understand how information from touch is actively generated, processed and combined with information from other senses (hearing, vision) and how these processes change later in life.

This project will characterise the behaviour and brain activity of older and younger people while they explore coarse and finely textured surfaces. The studies will look at the type of movements used for the exploration and the role of multisensory (i.e. visual and auditory) information on tactile perception.  The research will develop a model of how information is actively sought and combined to sense texture and how these processes are adjusted to compensate for age-related changes. Furthermore, the findings will be extended to a consumer product-testing environment to examine the effects of cleaning products on tactile surface perception.