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Velvet Hands

Velvet Hands
Your sense of touch can surprise you.

A surprising—and as yet unexplained—tactile illusion can occur when you slowly rub your palms across this mesh. You may feel a strange, slippery sensation, as if there’s a thin film of velvet between your hands.

What’s going on?

There are many types of touch-sensitive nerves in your skin. Some nerves respond to pressure, some to fast vibrations, some only to slow vibrations. Everything you touch—water, a rubber ball, a feather—stimulates a distinct combination of nerves that helps you identify what you’re touching.

Here, there’s clearly something special about the combination of nerves stimulated, creating what many people describe as a slippery or velvety sensation. But no one knows exactly why this happens.

This strange phenomenon was first noticed by a staff member when she was a kid, idly stroking a playground fence.


IMLS acknowledgment

This web project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [MA-30-16-0175-16].


IMLS acknowledgment

This web project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [MA-30-16-0175-16].