A Physical Property That Describes How Something Feels? Discover the Sensational World of Tactility

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Our sense of touch is one of the most fundamental human experiences. Have you ever stopped to think about why something feels smooth or rough, soft or hard? These textural sensations are a crucial aspect of how we understand the physical world around us and have an enormous impact on our daily lives.

Tactility, the perceived sense of touch, encompasses a variety of physical properties ranging from temperature to pressure sensitivity. Understanding these properties can help us build better products, design more comfortable environments, and even improve our overall well-being.

In this article, we’ll explore the sensational world of tactility and take a closer look at some of the physical characteristics that shape our tactile experiences. Whether you’re a designer looking to create more ergonomic products or simply curious about the science behind how things feel, there’s plenty to discover in the realm of tactility.

“To touch is to experience, to connect, to communicate.” -Deborah Fishman

So join us as we dive into the fascinating world of tactility and uncover the secrets behind what makes things feel the way they do. Get ready to expand your understanding of the sensory world around you!

What is Tactility?

Tactility refers to a physical property that describes how something feels when touched or handled. It involves the sense of touch and is closely related to texture, surface characteristics, elasticity, softness, roughness, smoothness, temperature, pressure, and other sensory inputs.

This sensation is an essential aspect of human communication because it allows us to perceive objective and subjective characteristics of different objects or materials in our surroundings.

In various fields such as design, fashion, automotive, art, architecture, and consumer goods, tactility plays a crucial role in creating products that are appealing, functional, and usable by people with diverse needs and preferences.

Definition of Tactility

The definition of tactility is not standardized but can be described as:

“Tactility is a characteristic of surfaces determined by the combination of physical and perceptual properties that affect touch sensation. It encompasses sensations that relate to the microtexture, macrotexture, and thermal profile of a material or object.” – Science Direct

The tactile experience involves both sensory and cognitive processes that occur simultaneously when we touch something. Sensory processing involves the detection, transmission, and integration of signals from sensory receptors located in our skin, joints, muscles, and internal organs. Cognitive processing involves the interpretation, evaluation, and memory of these signals based on previous experiences, expectations, emotions, and context.

Importance of Tactility

The importance of tactility can be attributed to several reasons:

  • Sensory pleasure: Tactile sensations can evoke positive feelings such as comfort, joy, relaxation, and satisfaction. For example, touching soft fabrics like silk or cashmere can create a luxurious and comforting sensation.
  • Information gathering: Tactile sensations can provide vital information about the characteristics, quality, and safety of objects or materials. For example, rough surfaces may indicate that a material is abrasive or less durable.
  • Decision making: Tactile sensations can influence our choices regarding products or services. For example, smooth surfaces may be perceived as more attractive or hygienic in kitchen appliances or bathroom fixtures.
  • User experience: Tactile sensations can improve the usability, accessibility, and functionality of products or services. For example, textured handles or grips can make tools or devices easier to use for people with disabilities or limited dexterity.

Types of Tactility

Tactility can be categorized into different types based on the specific sensory inputs involved. Some common types are:

  • Haptic tactility: This involves the sense of touch, pressure, vibration, and texture on different parts of the body surface. It is mainly related to the tactile receptors located in the skin and subcutaneous tissues.
  • Thermal tactility: This involves the perception of temperature differences between the skin and the environment or other materials. It is mainly related to thermoreceptors located in the skin and mucous membranes.
  • Painful tactility:This type involves unpleasant or noxious sensations caused by intense or prolonged mechanical, thermal, chemical, or electrical stimulation of the nociceptors located in the skin and internal organs.

Factors Affecting Tactility Sensation

The sensation of tactility depends on several factors that can influence how we perceive and interpret tactile signals. Some of these factors are:

  • The properties of the material or object: These include texture, hardness, elasticity, surface area, thermal conductivity, and chemical composition. For example, rough materials like sandpaper can produce a sense of abrasion on the skin.
  • The properties of the interaction between the skin and the material/object: These include pressure, shear, friction, vibration, moisture, and temperature. For example, applying more pressure while scratching an itch can alleviate the sensation for some time.
  • The characteristics of the sensory receptors: These include location, density, size, adaptability, and receptive fields. For example, the fingertips have more dense and finely tuned receptors than the back of the hand.
  • The individual differences in perception and cognition: These include age, sex, culture, experience, motivation, attention, and mood. For example, older adults may have reduced tactile sensitivity due to degeneration of skin, nerves, or brain structures.

Tactility is a crucial aspect of human perception and communication that allows us to interact with our environment effectively. By understanding the different types and factors affecting this sensation, designers, manufacturers, and consumers can create and evaluate products that meet the diverse needs and preferences of people.

The Five Basic Tactile Sensations

As human beings, we often use our sense of touch to gather information about the world around us. The way something feels can give us important clues as to what it is made of, its temperature, and even its identity. But have you ever stopped to think about the physical property that describes how something feels? This property is known as tactile sensation, and there are five basic types of tactile sensations that humans experience.


Perhaps one of the most commonly experienced tactile sensations is pressure. Pressure can be described as the force per unit area exerted by an object against a surface. We experience pressure when we apply force to an object or when an object applies force back on us. For instance, when we press down on a table with our hand, we feel the firm resistance of the table pushing back against us, which creates a sense of pressure in our fingers. In addition, other objects also exert pressure on us throughout the day, like chairs, clothing and shoes.

“The sensation of pressure appears to be related to the rate of loading as well: for example, a sharp visual stimulus along with a sudden onset will usually result in greater perceived smallness or tightness than if the stimulus presented more slowly.” – Michael A. Lynn


Another important tactile sensation is vibration. Vibration is produced by an object’s movement around a fixed point, and it results in the body experiencing a rhythmic oscillation. Common sources of vibrations include cars driving over bumpy surfaces, power drills at work, cell phones ringing in your pocket and music playing loudly through speakers. Vibrations may produce either pleasant or unpleasant feelings, depending on their intensity and frequency.

“All sensory systems detect vibration in some way, but the mechanisms underlying tactile vibration perception have remained elusive.” – Hakan Olausson


Texture is an important element of touch that can be described as the roughness or smoothness of a surface. Texture is determined by the presence of physical features on a surface such as bumps, ridges or scales. We use texture to identify objects without seeing them, like being able to tell if you’re touching sandpaper instead of silk just through your sense of touch.

“Texture analysis remains one of the most significant and challenging research areas in computer vision” – Sing Bing Kang


The fourth type of tactile sensation is temperature. Temperature describes how hot or cold something feels when you touch it with your skin. Although we experience temperature with our sense of touch, it is actually our skin’s ability to detect heat energy. Different temperatures can cause different sensations – for instance, touching a hot stove causes burning pain whereas plunging into icy waters brings with it a sharp ache.

“Changes in temperature set off a range of physiological changes from shivering when we get too chilly to sweating if things get too hot.” – Rachel Nuwer


Last but not least, there is pain. Pain is actually a complex sensory experience that involves emotional, psychological, and biological aspects. While it is unpleasant to experience pain, it serves an important role in alerting us to potential harm. Pain receptors are activated by intense pressure, extreme temperature, or damaging chemicals, which send signals up to the brain where they create the subjective feeling of pain in response to a specific stimulus.

“Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.” – International Association for the Study of Pain

Our sense of touch provides us with valuable information about the world around us. The five basic types of tactile sensations – pressure, vibration, texture, temperature and pain – are constantly at work to help us understand our environment without ever needing to see or hear it.

How to Measure Tactile Properties

Equipment for Measuring Tactile Sensations

The equipment required for measuring tactile sensations varies depending on the physical properties of the material or surface being analyzed. Some commonly used tools include:

  • Tactile evaluation instruments, which measure various parameters such as friction, roughness, and slipperiness.
  • Tribometers, which measure slip resistance and sliding friction on surfaces.
  • Texture analyzers, which physically compress, cut or puncture materials to evaluate their tensile strength, firmness, hardness, and viscosity.
  • Rheometers, which examine a material’s flow and deformation characteristics in response to shear stress like stirring or mixing.
  • Microscopes with high-resolution imaging capabilities can also aid in analyzing the impact of texture and other surface patterns on tactile feel.

Subjective and Objective Measurements of Tactility

There are two main ways to measure tactile properties: objective and subjective methods.

Objective methods involve using specialized equipment to analyze certain tactile properties of a material quantitatively. These measurements include metrics such as coefficient of friction, contact angle, and penetration force necessary to puncture a material.

In contrast, subjective methods assess how people perceive and describe touch or tactile stimuli. Examples of this approach include surveys or questionnaires where respondents would rate certain aspects of tactile stimuli based on adjectives like “smooth”, “slippery”, “hard” or “soft”. Psychophysiological responses such as skin conductance or heart rate can be measured when participants interact with different haptic interfaces or products. Thus, combining both ‘physiology’ and ‘behavioral perception’ could improve understanding of consumer acceptance of products characterized by tactiles cues.

Factors Affecting Tactile Property Measurements

Tactile property measurements can be affected by many variables, including:

  • The specific material or substrate being studied
  • The conditions (temperature, humidity) under which the measurements are taken
  • The measurement tools and methods used to collect data
  • Human factors such as demographic variables like age, gender, experience with using products of similar nature, etc.

Surface coatings on objects known as functionalized polymers and biopolymers also have a significant role in sensory perception because they influence both surface topography and chemistry at the nanoscale level. Therefore material scientists need to consider integrating psychophysical insights early in the R&D process to minimize iterations of experiments leading to novel tactiles properties, generating cost efficiency in new product development’s time-to-market strategy.

Interpretation of Tactile Property Data

Measuring tactile properties generates large volumes of data that must often be interpreted before conclusions can be drawn.

Analysis of objective data involves comparing absolute numerical results against standards for similar materials or surfaces. If the material to be tested cannot be compared straightforwardly, then tests should establish benchmarks from a comparable source, test the same sample repeatedly, and adjust carefull controls to obtain reliable measurements. Statistical techniques may also be employed when normalizing raw continuous data so statistical significance arises between different treatments or among multiple raters who differ intrinsically from one another.

In contrast, subjective interpretations rely more heavily on human perceptions than any fixed scientific standard. Multivariate analysis can uncover potential confounding effects of emotionality, cognitive biases, personality traits, familiarity, aesthetics, and expectations intrinsic to each individual’s culture or ethnicity. Drawing valid comparisons across diverse groups would require recruiting representative individuals across different gender and age groups, as well as accounting for variability in language when designing corresponding questionnaires.

“The tactility of a material speaks to its identity” – Daniel Burrus

Different tactile properties can be suggestive of different subconsciously perceived message to consumers when interacting with products like high quality and exclusivity (smooth surfaces) or durability and reliability (gritty or rough surface). By examining the technical specifications behind these multisensory cues, engineers and product developers create custom materials that positively reinforce product formulations. Then by making slight modifications to the sound, smell, lighting, and visual design of your prototypes to match specific customer expectations you can brace businesses from volatility when introducing new offerings with differentiated sensorial appeal.

Applications of Tactility in Daily Life

Tactility refers to a physical property that describes how something feels. The application of tactility in daily life can be seen in various products and experiences we encounter every day, from the texture of our clothing to the feel of our smartphone screens.

Tactility in Product Design

Tactile feedback is an essential aspect of product design. It helps users interact with objects and creates a sense of connection between the user and the product. For example, buttons on a remote control are designed to provide tactile feedback when pressed to give the user assurance that the button has been pushed correctly.

The use of materials such as rubber, silicone or textured plastics improves tactility by providing a grippable surface. These materials not only enhance durability but also improve the safety of using a specific product. Featuring a patterned grip surface in a device reinforces stability, making them especially useful for individuals who have arthritis or weak hand strength.

“Tactile technology enables devices to communicate more information via touch, improving accessibility.” -Mark Rolston

In addition to improving accessibility, incorporating physical textures into product design increases the engagement of users with their experience. Using bold colors, patterns, and textures all add value and meaning to the object which improves user satisfaction.

Tactility in User Experience

Tactile interactions play a vital role in enhancing the overall user experience of digital interfaces. Designers have found that incorporating elements of tactility through sound and haptic feedback makes these interfaces feel less sterile. One mainstream example of this feature includes smartphones; most Smartphones provide haptic feedback responses that create a sensation of tapping, swiping, or even typing on your keyboard to support visual cues. Additionally, some applications utilize sound effects like clicks, chirps, and other tone-supported feedback mechanisms to provide more natural responses.

“Haptic technology allows for tactile communication between humans and machines.” -Samsung Electronics

Online shopping websites often incorporate features like “hover-over” zoom features in their product images, aiming to amplify a user’s sense of feeling the textured details of garments. However, tactility doesn’t only have to be related to visual elements; it can involve non-visual interaction as well. An efficient way to check if your application is accessible to individuals who are visually impaired might include incorporating technologies through Braille pucks or physical buttons with audible cues

The human brain processes tactile input at a much faster rate than auditory or visual information. Therefore, including tactility design enhances the comprehensibility of digital data and aids users dealing with limited cognitive capabilities by creating associations between visual cues and touch sensory input that is multifaceted and stimulating. This design approach results in easy-to-use interfaces that improve the overall experience for all types of users.

Our lives revolve around various experiences that depend heavily on how something feels. Tactile feedback and touch-sensors add value to these experiences. Incorporating tactility will increase the life span of an object while enhancing its usefulness. Using the principles of tactile design, creators can optimize both products and services to serve consumers better.

Future of Tactile Technology

A Physical Property That Describes How Something Feels, tactile technology is the science behind machines that can touch. It enables people to feel virtual objects as if they were touching them in real life. With advancements in engineering and computer science, researchers are making tremendous progress towards making tactile technologies more interactive, sensitive, and useful for everyday applications.

Advancements in Artificial Touch Sensing

The sense of touch plays a vital role in human interaction with the outside world. Likewise, recent developments in artificial touch sensing could significantly improve human-robotic interactions across various industries such as healthcare and automobile manufacturing. For example,

“Artificial touch sensors enable robots to mimic humans’ dexterity and softness while automating complicated tasks.” -Dr. Katherine J. Kuchenbecker

In 2020, scientists at Northwestern University developed an electronic skin-like material designed to enable robots to “feel” their environment, achieving remarkable accuracy levels when it comes to differentiating between textures and pressure variations. Soon, this technology will allow robots to engage in delicate or unpredictable actions in tightly-packed environments where human hands cannot fit, revolutionizing automation all around the globe.

Integration of Tactile Technology in Virtual Reality

Virtual reality (VR) experiences give users an elevated level of depth perception through sensor-equipped devices like VR headsets, but those experiences primarily rely on visual sensations. Tactile feedback within immersive simulations ups the realism even further by evoking motor skills memory–people walking in a virtual cityscape could stumble over cobblestones almost as though they were actually trotting alongside roadways unevenly made of old bricks. While originally the haptic devices seen today only produced simple vibrations, new ground-breaking work has been done to refine the technology.

“Researchers believe developing better haptic feedback could lead to more immersive VR experiences, especially in applications such as gaming and medical simulations. For example, virtual reality environments powered by advanced touch sensors can allow individuals with physical disabilities to experience activities they are unable to do easily, such as playing an instrument or partaking in extreme sports.” -Dr. Matthew A. Hutchins

The concept of tactile technology isn’t just restricted to playtime and entertainment; haptic mechanisms also demonstrate their usefulness when simulating surgeries, enabling physicians to have a greater grasp on textures and resistance forces during practicing advanced procedures.

Applications of Tactile Technology in Medical Devices

Many hospitals worldwide are adopting cutting-edge technological advancements regarding the automation aspect of medicine to improve overall patient care quality. Tactile technologies already see prolific application within medical fields too–consider for instance how ultrasound machine users are reliant on tactility to obtain real-time observations of organs located inside the body.

“Improved sensory feedback can significantly optimize live operations performed by surgeons, reduce surgery time, chances of medical complications, leading to more successful surgeries,” explains Dr. Karen Moxon of The Neural Engineering Laboratory at UC Davis.

Thanks to innovations like microelectronics that facilitates contact-like movements through augmented joints system development, robotic surgical units become every day less invasive while providing comprehensive views and multi-jointed motion capacity. As input systems advance, so will output ones: Some researchers argue we are only a few years away from producing living skin grafts made entirely from artificial tissue – it’s even suggested that eventually prosthetic limbs could transmit taste back to the central nervous system for an even more realistic brought-to-life sensation.

  • A Physical Property That Describes How Something Feels is just one way to describe what tactile technology aims to achieve. The future of tactile technology is both exciting and far-reaching–tactile technologies will have an essential role in enhancing human-technology interaction, delivering more realistic sensory experiences for VR users and assisting medical practitioners during every facet of a patient’s care.
  • Tactile sensors’ capabilities continue to extend within practical applications, pushing boundaries around what was once thought impossible. It seems there’s no limit as to how these futuristic haptic vibrational techniques can revolutionize our experiences from touchscreens on smartwatches or monitors (bringing the tactile symphony straight to your fingertips) to launching smooth, soft drones into the air that can accurately probe underwater crevices without disrupting the marine environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the physical property that describes how something feels?

The physical property that describes how something feels is texture. It is the surface characteristics of an object that can be felt by touch or perceived by the sense of touch.

How can we measure the physical property that describes how something feels?

We can measure the physical property of texture by using a texture analyzer. The analyzer applies force to the surface of the object and measures the resulting deformation, providing information on the texture of the material.

What are some examples of objects that have varying physical properties that affect how they feel?

Objects with varying physical properties that affect how they feel include fabrics, paper, food, and ceramics. For example, rough fabrics may feel scratchy, while smooth fabrics feel soft and silky.

What factors influence the physical property that describes how something feels?

Factors that influence the physical property of texture include the material’s surface roughness, porosity, and hardness, as well as the temperature and moisture content of the material.

How does the physical property that describes how something feels relate to our sense of touch?

The physical property of texture, which describes how something feels, is closely related to our sense of touch. Our sense of touch allows us to perceive and interpret the texture of objects and materials, enabling us to identify and interact with them in our environment.

Can the physical property that describes how something feels change over time?

Yes, the physical property of texture that describes how something feels can change over time. For example, a piece of paper that is crumpled becomes rougher, while a piece of fruit that ripens becomes softer.

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