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Roughness is a perceptual attribute typically associated with certain stimuli that are presented in one of the spatial senses. In auditory research, the term is typically used to describe the harsh effects that are induced by particular sound qualities (i.e., dissonance) and human/animal vocalizations (e.g., screams, distress cries). In the tactile domain, roughness is a crucial factor determining the perceptual features of a surface. The same feature can also be ascertained visually, by means of the extraction of pattern features that determine the haptic quality of surfaces, such as grain size and density. By contrast, the term roughness has rarely been applied to the description of those stimuli perceived via the chemical senses. In this review, we take a critical look at the putative meaning(s) of the term roughness, when used in both unisensory and multisensory contexts, in an attempt to answer two key questions: (1) Is the use of the term 'roughness' the same in each modality when considered individually? and (2) Do crossmodal correspondences involving roughness match distinct perceptual features or (at least on certain occasions) do they merely pick-up on an amodal property? We start by examining the use of the term in the auditory domain. Next, we summarize the ways in which the term roughness has been used in the literature on tactile and visual perception, and in the domain of olfaction and gustation. Then, we move on to the crossmodal context, reviewing the literature on the perception of roughness in the audiovisual, audiotactile, and auditory-gustatory/olfactory domains. Finally, we highlight some limitations of the reviewed literature and we outline a number of key directions for future empirical research in roughness perception.

Original publication




Journal article


Atten Percept Psychophys

Publication Date



Astringency, Auditory consonance/dissonance, Human vocalizations, Intersensory, Olfaction, Taste, Touch, Vision