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Multisensory exploration of surface texture

Project Description

The PhD will be based in the School of Psychology and will be supervised by Professor Alan Wing and Dr Max Di Luca who will be happy to answer your queries.

Judgments of surface cleanliness may include vision and touch. This project will characterise the way in which people identify and localise micro surface features (dots of the order of 100 microns diameter) simulating dirt particles on a smooth surface. Natural touch and visual exploration patterns will be tracked with high speed motion capture, eye tracking, and measurement of surface forces and torques. Experimental manipulations will include the effects of finger wetting and addition of surfactant (washing up liquid), which are expected to affect discrimination by changing surface reflection and friction between the finger and the contacted surface. Data analysis will use a Bayesian approach to understand integration of information across vision and touch, across multiple tactile contacts, and including the role of prior experience.

Basic psychophysical and modelling studies in the Sensory Motor Neuroscience (SyMoN) Lab at the University of Birmingham will be complemented by regular working visits to Procter & Gamble’s Brussels Innovation Centre to explore translational implications of the results, for example, in the formulation of washing up liquid.

The project will be of interest to STEM students with a first class undergraduate or good Masters degree, possessing computational and programming skills, and wishing to gain understanding of low level sensory neurophysiology as well as higher level brain mechanisms of sensory integration.

Skills gained will include: experimental design, apparatus development (hardware and software), ethics, recruiting and testing participants, conditioning motion capture and psychophysical judgment data, inferential statistics, modelling results, writing papers. There will also be opportunity for gaining brain imaging (EEG, fMRI, MEG) experience in the School of Psychology’s Centre for Human Brain Health (CHBH).

Funding Notes

Jointly funded by UOB and Procter & Gamble, this project complements an ongoing BBSRC-funded project on behavioural, modelling and brain imaging studies of aging touch involving the Universities of Birmingham, Nottingham and Procter & Gamble. The bursary is available to UK and EU students only and covers tuition fees and an annual maintenance grant in line with the RCUK rate.


Di Luca, M., Knörlein, B., Ernst, M. O., and Harders, M. (2011). Effects of visual-haptic asynchronies and loading-unloading movements on compliance perception. Brain Research Bulletin, 85:245–259
Di Luca, M. (2014). Multisensory softness: Perceived Compliance from Multiple Sources of Information. Springer
Giachritsis CD, Wing AM, Lovell PG. The role of spatial integration in the perception of surface orientation with active touch. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics 2009, 71, 1628-1640.
Johannsen L, Wing A, Redfern MS. Tactile control of balance. In Prescott TJ, Ahissar E, Izhikevich E (Eds) Scholarpedia of touch, 2016 – Atlantis Press. DOI 10.2991/978-94-6239-133-8_22
Johannsen L, Coward SRL, Martin GR, Wing AM, van Casteren A, Sellers WI, Ennos AR, Crompton RH, Thorpe SK. Human bipedal instability in tree canopy environments is reduced by “light touch” fingertip support". Scientific reports, 2017, 7, 1135.
Maij F, Wing AM, Medendorp WP. Afferent motor feedback determines the perceived location of tactile stimuli in the external space presented to the moving arm. Journal of Neurophysiology. 2017;118:187-93.
Noel, J.P., Samad, M., Doxon, A., Clark, J., Keller, S., Di Luca, M. (2018). Peri-personal space as a prior in coupling visual and proprioceptive signals. Scientific Reports, 8:151819
Peelen MV, Rogers J, Wing AM, Downing PE, Bracewell, RM. Unitary haptic perception: integrating moving tactile inputs from anatomically adjacent and non-adjacent digits. Experimental Brain Research, 2010, 204: 457-464
Prescott TJ, Diamond ME, Wing AM Active touch sensing. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 2011, 366, 2989–2995
Rank, M. and Di Luca, M., (2015). Speed/Accuracy Tradeoff in Force Perception, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 41(3):738-46
Roberts RD, Humphreys GW & Wing AM Temporal constraints on interactions across haptic channels Experimental Brain Research, 2005,164, 529-540.
Sun, H.C., Welchman, A.E., Chang, D.H.F., and Di Luca, M. (2016). Look but don't touch: visual cues to surface structure drive somatosensory cortex, NeuroImage 2016, 128, 353-361.
Witney, A., Wing AM, Thonnard JL, Smith, A. The cutaneous contribution to adaptive precision grip. Trends in Neurosciences. 2004, 27, 637-643.

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 40.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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