Giving new meaning to the term energy work, researchers have found that humans distinguish the difference between fine textures, such as silk or satin, through vibrations, which are picked up by two separate sets of nerve receptors in the skin and relayed to the brain.

“Previous research has shown that coarse textures, such as Braille dot patterns, are encoded by receptors that are densely packed into the primate fingertip,” a press release noted. “The spatial layout of responses of these receptors corresponds to the spatial layout of surface features of a texture.”

Most natural textures, however, are too fine to be perceived in this manner. The new research indicates that two other sets of receptors convey information about fine textures by responding to the high-frequency vibrations produced in the skin as it is scanned across a surface.

In addition to ascribing to these receptors a new role in touch, the study highlights that touch employs two modes of operation: One based on spatial patterns of activation, the other on temporal patterns. These two modes coexist and interact.

Results were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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