Poor resolution at the back of the tongue is the bottleneck for spatial pattern recognition. Sci Rep 2020;10(1):2435.Abstract.
Spatial patterns presented on the tongue using electro-tactile sensory substitution devices (SSDs) have been suggested to be recognized better by tracing the pattern with the tip of the tongue. We examined if the functional benefit of tracing is overcoming the poor sensitivity or low spatial resolution at the back of the tongue or alternatively compensating for limited information processing capacity by fixating on a segment of the spatial pattern at a time. Using a commercially available SSD, the BrainPort, we compared letter recognition performance in three presentation modes; tracing, static, and drawing. Stimulation intensity was either constant or increased from the tip to the back of the tongue to partially compensate for the decreasing sensitivity. Recognition was significantly better for tracing, compared to static and drawing conditions. Confusion analyses showed that letters were confused based on their characteristics presented near the tip in static and drawing conditions. The results suggest that recognition performance is limited by the poor spatial resolution at the back of the tongue, and tracing seems to be an effective strategy to overcome this. Compensating for limited information processing capacity or poor sensitivity by drawing or increasing intensity at the back, respectively, does not improve the performance.