Tactile Response: How Modern Technology Connects With Your Mind

About this guest author:
Nicole Enwright is contributing on behalf of Pannam, which offers a variety of tech and new gadget info to help users find products they need.

When a parent tries to justify a child’s love of video games, one common rationale is that the activity actually improves eye-hand coordination, which is important for many future activities in life. Indeed, there’s a lot of science behind the theory of eye-hand coordination and the role that the user experience plays in initiating that connection.

Interaction with Physical Objects Triggers Sensory Response

Typically, eye-hand coordination is aided when a person is interacting with some physical object. When a tactile response, or physical sensation, is experienced by the person, the brain is trained for what to expect next. It’s the same theory behind games such as baseball – when the player feels the bat connect with the ball, the immediate, learned response is to start running.

People actually learn responses to many of these sensations at a young age thanks to the human senses. A small child learns quickly to avoid touching pans on the stove after

being burned. On the other hand, those with sensory integration or processing disorders don’t learn the typical and expected responses to the same behaviors as other children at the same age – because they don’t feel the sensation, it doesn’t create a connection in the brain between the action and the result.

Basic Psychological Theories Related to Learned Behaviors and Responses

It all goes back to basic psychological theories and principles, such as Pavlov’s dog – a commonly cited example of classical conditioning. These same basic psychological principles actually play a big role in technology, particularly, the user experience when it comes to electronic devices.

If you’ve ever tried to type on a touchscreen smartphone, you probably experienced considerable difficulties the first time. That’s because your mind, your eyes, and your hands have all learned specific behaviors in response to specific stimuli. Speedy typists have strong connections in their minds related to the location of specific keys, the appearance of words on the screen and the tactile response their fingers feel when each key is tapped. Any changes to the anticipated action-response cycle throws off the brain’s logical pathways, leading to confusion and errors.

The reason for this, of course, is that some touchscreen smartphones don’t offer a tactile feedback response. The flat screen remains in the same position before, during and after it’s pressed by the user. Standard keyboards, on the other hand, have keys that provide significant feedback by actually moving with each press. That’s why touchscreen devices take some getting used to – you basically have to re-train your brain to adapt to a new tactile response.

Consumer Electronics Face Multiple Options for Tactile Feedback

Tactile sensory feedback is so important to the user experience that many smartphone manufacturers have tried to incorporate this technology into newer devices – often in response to customer frustration with the difficulties of standard virtual keyboards – to mimic the sensations of a true tactile feedback experience. On smartphones, an artificial response is the only option, as rubber keypads have long since gone by the wayside as an acceptable interface.

Smartphones and similar consumer electronics devices use technology called capacitive touch to mimic the experience of actual mechanical keys and buttons. These same devices are now adding something known as haptics, or a sophisticated touch-response mechanism, providing feedback sensations to the user such as force, vibration and even motion. This is sometimes difficult to accomplish on a rigid surface, but innovative manufacturers are finding new ways to incorporate it into their interface designs.

Artificial feedback in the form of capacitive touch can be expensive, but it’s the best option for applications in which consumers demand more advanced technology and more sophisticated user interfaces – even if it means a loss of sensory feedback. In other applications where tactile feedback is critical for usability and even the likelihood of consumers to readily adopt a new product, rubber keypads still hold a valuable place.

Rubber keypads can be completely customized and even combined with other types of user interfaces for a more complex user experience overall. Most people can readily adapt to rubber keypads, making then an ideal solution where usability is a top priority. There are also durability benefits that can’t be overlooked for silicone keypads and other types of rubber.

The user interface is one of the most important components of any consumer electronic product – and the choice can literally determine the product’s success or failure in the market. With tactile feedback playing such a critical role in eye-hand coordination, usability and even emotional response, choosing the right user interface is critical.

That’s why most manufacturers turn to experts in membrane switches and user interface design for customized solutions in line with the product’s requirements and consumer demands. Visit Pannam’s website for more information on rubber keypads, membrane switches, capacitive touch technology and other options for custom user interfaces that serves as the foundation for usability in any application.

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