When Hearing Defers to Touch

Hudin Charles, Hayward Vincent

Hearing is often believed to be more sensitive than touch. This assertion is based on a comparison of sensitivities to weak stimuli. The respective stimuli, however, are not easily comparable since hearing is gauged using acoustic pressure and touch using skin displacement. We show that under reasonable assumptions the auditory and tactile detection thresholds can be reconciled on a level playing field. The results indicate that the capacity of touch and hearing to detect weak stimuli varies according to the size of a sensed object as well as to the frequency of its oscillations. In particular, touch is found to be more effective than hearing at detecting small and slow objects.

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