Note: Here I am not talking about electric shock (one feels when a lot of electricity passes through), I am talking about smaller sensations one feel directly on the skin.

Note: I am not able to find any correlation graph between feature of electricity that determines the intensity of feeling i.e., voltage, current or frequency. So is there any research paper or anything else around that can shed light on this? This will be very helpful.

I have studied that humans sense touch because of the "Merkel cells" in the skin, and Merkel cells are essentially pressure sensors. I don't think electricity leads to pressure changes, So then how do we feel the sensation of electricity on skin. Is it because electricity directly interface with neurons some how?

If I am not able to explain the question here is a more practical way of thinking about it:

If I touch two electrode close on the skin (or maybe possibly one even though I am not sure one can do the trick) and pass electricity how will skill feel it.

  • $\begingroup$ Do you mean static electricity? (I've never felt anything else that wasn't a shock.) I'd suspect that the static electric charge on body hair is causing them to move, activating pressure receptors. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Aug 15, 2021 at 16:26
  • $\begingroup$ Why do you assume electricity isn't passing through your skin just because it doesn't feel like a shock? Electricity doesn't always feel like a shock. For example, when electrodes cause your muscles to twitch. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Aug 15, 2021 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf I am not just talking about static electricity. One practical example that you might have felt could be if you take a 9v battery and touch it on your tongue you will feel sensation that can't be described as shock. Similar things are possible to do on skin at higher voltages. $\endgroup$ Aug 16, 2021 at 12:19
  • $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen ya electricity is definitely passing through skin (and I am not assuming it isn't. But for my particular application I am interested in sensation directly felt on skin. $\endgroup$ Aug 16, 2021 at 12:23

1 Answer 1


In the skin, there are 4 types of tactile receptors, dependent on whether it is glabrous or hairy skin;

  1. Meissner's corpuscles
  2. Merkel cells
  3. Ruffini endings
  4. Pacinian corpuscles

Ruffini endings are thought not to be sensitive to electrical stimulation, the other 3, however are. These other 3 can readily be electrically activated and each type can be separately targeted by changing stimulus and placement parameters. Activation is normally due to pressure differences. However, the nerve endings are basically axons, and these can be activated electrically as well Kajimoto et al. (2002).

Some parts of the body have high densities of these tactile receptors, such as the fingertips and the tongue. That's why electrical stimulation has been applied as a means to convey information via the skin. Take for instance the BrainPort device (Fig. 1); this device consists of a camera hooked to a tongue-display unit (TDU). The TDU translates camera pixels into tactile images on the tongue, brought about by 144 electrodes. It is designed to substitute vision for blind people. (Stronks et al., 2016).

Fig. 1. BrainPort device. Source: Nau et al. (2014)

- Kajimoto et al., Electronics and Communications in Japan, 85(6) 120-8
- Nau et al., Front Hum Neurosci (2014): fnhum.2014.00291
- Stronks et al., Exp Rev Med Dev (2016); 13(10): 919–31

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for answer I also read your answer to this question biology.stackexchange.com/questions/37207/… and it was also helpful. But is there research on correlation between electrical features and sensations on body. $\endgroup$ Aug 16, 2021 at 12:15

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