Everything that is going on

Flanders Science Day

Our motor control lab can be found at Flanders Science Day (Dag van de Wetenschap) again on 25 November, where we demonstrate various fun motor and perception tasks to the general public.

Poster at Society for Neuroscience Conference

Today, you can see my work at the annual conference of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego (US). Here, we look at the effects of TMS on the anterial intraparietal area on how forces are controlled and how weight is perceived when lifting objects of different sizes.

New paper published on grasping

How do you grasp a cup of coffee? Find out in a new paper on the effect of affordances on grasping that I co-authored with Elisabeth Rounis and Marco Davare, now published in Scientific Reports.

My Research

What I do in the laboratory

In my research I am interested in the interaction between action and perception. The ‘actions’ I investigate are hand movements. Our hands are very important to interact with our environment: we use them all the time to manipulate objects.

The manipulation of an object starts with grasping and lifting it. This might seem easy, but if we don’t want to squeeze a fragile object such as an egg, for example, we have to scale our fingertip forces and grip to the object properties. At the same time, we receive information about these properties by getting feedback from sensors in the skin. This is very useful if we have never touched the object before as it allows us to learn how to handle it.

In one of my projects, I am investigating how the scaling of forces is related to our perception of object weight. To investigate this, I use precise force sensors to investigate how forces are planned and controlled in the lifting of objects of different weight. I also ask participants how heavy they think objects are. By comparing these measures, we have recently found that the planned forces influence how heavy an object feels (van Polanen & Davare, 2015).

In addition, I am looking at which brain areas are involved in the control of these action and perceptual systems. I use transcranial magnetic stimulation to stimulate the brain and evaluate how this affects the control of movements.

Curriculum Vitæ

A brief overview of what I did before

I have a background in Human Movement Sciences and in psychophysics (the study of perception). After I finished my bachelor Human Movement Sciences at VU Amsterdam in the Netherlands, I continued to master Human Movement Sciences at the same university. As part of my master, I performed a research internship in at the Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom. In this project, I studied the eye–hand coordination in pointing tasks.

After graduating, I started a PhD on haptic perception at Utrecht University and continued this position after two years at the VU Amsterdam. During these four years, I investigated the haptic saliency of object properties with haptic search tasks. If a property is salient, this means it is processed very efficiently. Therefore, it can be felt very easily and quickly. In addition, I looked at the exploration movements that are made when haptically searching for object properties.

I currently work at the KU Leuven in Belgium, where I explore the relations between action and perception in grasping movements. At the Motor Control and Neuroplasticity lab, I have the opportunity to also investigate the brain areas that are important in controlling action and perception systems. Since 2017, my research is funded by an FWO post-doctoral fellowship.


The articles that I have published


  • Rounis, E., van Polanen, V., & Davare, M. (2018). A direct effect of perception on action when grasping a cup. Scientific Reports, 8, 171.
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  • Plaisier, M.A., van Polanen, V., & Kappers, A.M.L. (2017). The role of connectedness in haptic object perception. Scientific Reports, 7, 43868.
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  • van Polanen, V., Bergmann Tiest, W.M., & Kappers, A.M.L. (2016). A simple model of the hand for the analysis of object exploration. In: M. Bianchi, A. Moscatelli (Ed.) Human and Robot hands, 235–258. Springer International Publishing.
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  • van Polanen, V., & Davare, M. (2015). Sensorimotor memory biases weight perception during object lifting. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 9, 700.
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  • van Polanen, V., & Davare, M. (2015). Interactions between dorsal and ventral streams for controlling skilled grasp. Neuropsychologia 79, Part B, 186–191.
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  • van Polanen, V., Bergmann Tiest, W.M., & Kappers, A.M.L. (2014). Target contact and exploration strategies in haptic search. Scientific Reports 4, 6254.
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  • van Polanen, V., Bergmann Tiest, W.M., & Kappers, A.M.L. (2014). Parallel processing of shape and texture in haptic search. Acta psychologica 150, 35–40.
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  • van Polanen, V., Bergmann Tiest, W.M., Creemers, N., Verbeek, M.J., & Kappers, A.M.L. (2014). Optimal exploration strategies in haptic search. Eurohaptics 2014, Part I, LNCS 8618 (pp. 185–191). Berlin Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.
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PhD Thesis

  • van Polanen, V. (2014). Findings in haptic (re)search (doctoral dissertation). VU University, Amsterdam.
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  • van Polanen, V., Bergmann Tiest, W.M., & Kappers, A.M.L. (2013). Integration and disruption effects of shape and texture in haptic search. PLoS ONE 8(7), e70255.
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  • van Polanen, V., Bergmann Tiest, W.M., & Kappers, A.M.L. (2012). Haptic search for hard and soft spheres. PLoS ONE 7(10), e45298.
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  • van Polanen, V., Bergmann Tiest, W.M., & Kappers, A.M.L. (2012). Haptic pop-out of movable stimuli. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics 74(1), 204–215.
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  • van Polanen, V., Bergmann Tiest, W.M., & Kappers, A.M.L. (2011). Movement strategies in a haptic search task. IEEE World Haptics Conference (WHC) 2011, (pp. 275–280). IEEE.
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  • Deconinck, F., Polanen, V. van, Savelsbergh, G.J.P., & Bennett, S. (2011). The relative timing between eye and hand rapid sequential pointing is affected by time pressure, but not by advance knowledge. Experimental Brain Research 213, 99–109.
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