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See Inside December 2007/January 2008

Touching Illusions

Startling deceptions demonstrate how tactile information is processed in the brain

HUMANS, LIKE ALL PRIMATES, are highly visual creatures. Most of the back of our brain is devoted to visual processing, and half of the cortex is involved with sight. In addition, when visual inputs conflict with clues from other senses, vision tends to dominate. This supremacy is why, for example, ventriloquists are so compelling. We see the dummy talking, and we are fooled into hearing the voice coming from it—a case of what scientists call “visual capture.” (With eyes closed, however, we can correctly localize the dummy voice to the ventriloquist.)

If information from vision and touch are incompatible, visual dominance may cause us to actually feel things differently than if we relied only on touch (without looking).

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