How fast is too fast? Boundaries to the perception of electrical stimulation of peripheral nerves

Sigrid Dupan, Zak McNeill, Eera Sarda, Emma Brunton, Kianoush Nazarpour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Transcutaneous electrical stimulation is a promising technique for providing prosthetic hand users with information about sensory events. However, questions remain over how to design the stimulation paradigms to provide users the best opportunity to discriminate these events. Here, we investigate if the refractory period influences how the amplitude of the applied stimulus is perceived. Twenty participants completed a two-alternative forced choice experiment. We delivered two stimuli spaced between 250 ms to 450 ms apart (inter-stimulus-interval, isi). The participants reported which stimulus they perceived as strongest. Each stimulus consisted of either a single or paired pulse delivered transcutaneously. The inter-pulse interval (ipi) for the paired pulse stimuli varied between 6 and 10 ms. We found paired pulses with an ipi of 6 ms were perceived stronger than a single pulse less often than paired pulses with an ipi of 8 ms (p = 0.001) or 10 ms (p < 0.0001). Additionally, we found when the isi was 250 ms, participants were less likely to identify the paired pulse as strongest, than when the isi was 350 or 450 ms. This study emphasizes the importance of basing stimulation paradigms on the underlying neural physiology. The results indicate there is an upper limit to the commonly accepted notion that higher stimulation frequencies lead to stronger perception. If frequency is to be used to encode sensory events, then the results suggest stimulus paradigms should be designed using frequencies below 125 Hz.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)782-788
Number of pages7
JournalIEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering
Early online date10 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Electrical stimulation
  • sensory feedback
  • neural behaviour
  • prosthetic control


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