My research focuses on understanding the sense of touch and its relationship with vision and hearing. I hope that my research will contribute to the teaching methods and the materials used with people who are visually impaired; for example, in education and rehabilitation (book illustrations); orientation and mobility (maps), and museums (art works). In particular, I investigate how people who use haptic touch – the combination of touch and movement – perceive and process shape information, and how this is affected by vision and hearing.
I use both quantitative and qualitative research methods – combining speed, accuracy, drawing, and/or think-aloud data. Recently, I have also started tracking the exploring movements and pressures of up to six fingers using a novel Android application and a tablet touch screen (with the tactile picture placed on top).
I am and have been the Primary Investigator and initiator of numerous research projects, for example ‘Seeing through touch’, ‘Attentive glimpse as retrieval associate’, ‘InSIght’, ‘Multisensory Access – bringing visual art to life through touch and sound’, and ‘The Oxford Sound Album’. ‘Seeing through touch’ showed that people’s recognition of tactile pictures improves when being taught, visually for 20 minutes or tactually for 45 minutes, to pay attention to object shape. ‘Attentive glimpse as retrieval associate’ showed which tactile shapes people perceive in early attention, and which rather require focused attention. This project also identified three discrimination strategies for detecting a tactile target-shape, and three location strategies for discovering and locating a (tactile) target position, including their phases of attention. ‘InSIght’ showed that people integrate both tactile and auditory and visual and auditory shape information. When experienced in using either haptic touch or vision, they also know when to ignore auditory information, for example, they can ignore the curved sound of the spoken word 'bouba', when exploring an angular (tactile/visual) shape like 'kiki'. ‘Multisensory Access – bringing visual art to life through touch and sound’ investigated how people explore multisensory (tactile-auditory) pictures of visual art works. This project was awarded one of the three prizes at the Humanities Innovation Challenge Competition, 2017 (University of Oxford). ‘The Oxford Sound Album’ will present the favourite Oxford city soundscapes, identified by people who rely on sound for spatial information and people who work with music and/or sound art: It will feature both outside and inside spaces, such as the sound of Radcliffe Square on an early spring morning.
‘You people who can see attach such an absurd importance to your eyes! I set my touch, my dear, against your eyes, as much the most trustworthy, and much the most intelligent sense of the two.’ [Wilkie Collins (1872), cited in C. Peters (ed.), Poor Miss Finch, p. 220. Oxford: Oxford University Press.]
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