The Experiments

Heart-shaped sweets with scoop

Of all the senses, touch is perhaps the least understood. What makes the touch of a close friend so pleasurable when exactly the same touch delivered by a stranger produces no positive response? Why do things feel different if we shut our eyes or block our ears? Why can't we tickle ourselves? These are some of the questions that scientists are trying to answer.

Touch Me includes two experiments which allow exhibition visitors to contribute data that may help to resolve two further mysteries. One of these is the 'oral size illusion' - the fact that things in the mouth feel larger than they do when felt by hand. You can try this yourself with a packet of Fruit Polos (or Lifesavers in the US). Without looking at it, put one of the sweets into your mouth and feel the hole with your tongue. Guess how big it is and draw a circle that size on a piece of paper. Then measure the diameter of the circle you have drawn and also the diameter of the hole in a second sweet. The former will almost certainly be larger. The exhibition experiment is designed to gauge exactly how much larger most people feel things are in the mouth.

The other experiment asks people to distinguish between various vibrational 'textures' that might be used to create more communicative products. Mobile phones vibrate in different ways to indicate receipt of a voice message or a text. Our senses can distinguish a huge variety of colours and sound tones, but how great a range of such vibrations might our touch sense be able to detect? And how easy will it be for us to learn what these different vibrations mean?