Brain and Behavior

Sensation and Perception

How does the brain process touch?

The sensory organs for all of our other senses are relatively small. Consider the size of the ears, nose, or eyes. The sensory organ that processes touch, however, covers our whole body. Our entire skin functions as the sensory organ for touch. Our skin is covered with many different sensory receptor cells. Some are specialized to sense changes in physical pressure, some to vibrations, some to pain, and others to temperature. These neurons send information to the cortex via a fairly long pathway, running through the spinal cord, areas in the mid brain, and the thalamus. The primary sensory area for touch is called the somatosensory strip (S1) in the anterior (front) area of the parietal lobe. Neurons responding to touch on different areas of the body are mapped along the somatosensory strip. This map is known as the homunculus (“little man” in Latin). Association cortices for touch (e.g., S2 and S3) are adjacent to S1.


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