Why does rubbing your hands on chicken wire feel like glass?
July 25, 2007 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone explain the phenomenon of rubbing your hands together on chicken wire and having it feel like soapy glass?

At the Exploratorium in San Francisco several years ago, there was a small exhibit set up that basically had just a piece of chicken wire, and it asked you to put one hand on either side and rub your hands together up and down the wire. After a few seconds, it started to feel like you were rubbing your hands on glass, that sometimes felt cold and even soapy. I have no memory whatsoever of what the explanation was. Did anyone else see this, or have any idea what causes this very strange sensation?
posted by ORthey to Science & Nature (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is the exhibit at the Exploratorium, but that page is oddly unuseful. Looks like it's called a haptic illusion.
posted by logic vs love at 10:33 AM on July 25, 2007

Wow, I missed that. But you're right - that doesn't explain anything! Also, I don't remember it feeling velvety at all.
posted by ORthey at 10:49 AM on July 25, 2007

Here's a journal article, but you have to pay to read it...
posted by ManInSuit at 11:08 AM on July 25, 2007

A very small amount of information on touch illusion.
posted by ND¢ at 11:24 AM on July 25, 2007

Thanks, ManInSuit. Now I have to decide if it's worth 19 of my hard-earned dollars to learn more!
posted by ORthey at 11:34 AM on July 25, 2007

Is this along the same explanatory lines?
posted by houseofdanie at 11:49 AM on July 25, 2007

Ooh, there's a pdf with a little more information. Seems like no one really knows what causes it.
posted by logic vs love at 12:46 PM on July 25, 2007

The for-pay journal link is probably not worth $20 (only 4 pages and no clear answer). I have free access to it via my university, and the gist is that you can produce the same effective with as little as a pair of taut nylon strings. One string is insufficient. They attempt to derive a mathematical formulation of the necessary pressure, speed, and spacing required to produce the effect.

They suggest that the effect is caused by the difference between the continuous pressure of the touching hands and the sharp, moving discontinuity of the pressure from the wires. They are not too concerned with investigating the physiological reason for the effect, just in exploiting it for computer interface purposes.
posted by jedicus at 12:54 PM on July 25, 2007

...produce the same effect...</em
posted by jedicus at 12:55 PM on July 25, 2007

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