Detective Boxes

In addition to looking pretty neat with all those loops and whirls, your fingertips are great at multitasking. The skin on them has a ton of receptors that help us to gather a lot of information about our environment such as texture, movement, pressure, and temperature.

This experiment will test your ability to determine textures by using touch receptors. You will use shoeboxes with holes cut into them to make texture boxes. Each box will have a textured surface that you can feel, but not see. Through the receptors in your fingers, you will determine whether the surface is rough, waxy, soft, or smooth.

Here’s what you need

    • 4 shoeboxes with lids
    • 1 soup can
    • 1 pencil
    • 1 pair of scissors
    • 1 sheet of sandpaper
    • 1 sheet of wax paper
    • 1 sheet of flannel fabric
    • 1 sheet of plastic
    • 1 glue gun
    • 1 pair of gloves
    • partners

Here’s what you do

  1. Using the soup can as a guide, draw a circle at the end of a shoebox.  Then use the scissors to cut out the circle.
  2. Cut a piece of sandpaper to fit the bottom of the shoebox (a ruler might also be handy to get an exact measurement). Glue the sandpaper to the inside bottom of the shoebox. Put the lid on the box and label it as Box 1.
  3. Repeat the first two steps for each of the boxes, putting the wax paper, flannel, and plastic in boxes 2-4. Be sure to label each.
  4. Now ask a partner to reach into each box, feel the texture, and describe it as rough, waxy, soft, or smooth. Record their answer. Use undecided if they aren’t sure.
  5. Once your friend has identified a texture and you have recorded their response, open the box so that you can both see what material they have evaluated. Be sure to note in your data whether your friend was correct with a Y or N. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for each of the boxes.
  6. Have your friend leave the room or look away so that you can rearrange the box lids. Then give them the gloves to wear and repeat the test using gloved hands. Record the data and compare the effectiveness of gloved hands. Does this have an impact on the touch receptors?

What’s going on?

The fabric of the gloves interferes with the ability of our touch receptors to function fully. Our fingertips are feeling the fabric of the gloves on their receptors and this makes it difficult to perceive what they are touching through the gloves.

We have 5 different types of receptors. They are types of nerve endings in our skin and are connected to our brains.

  • The ones that respond to deep pressure are called Pacini’s endings and they are embedded deep in our skin.
  • Merkel’s endings detect moderate pressure.
  • Meissner’s ending respond to vibrations and light pressure.
  • Ruffini’s ending, which detect changes in temperature, can also respond to pressure.
  • Our pain receptors are called free endings.


  1. Name, in order, the three main layers of skin.
  2. Which layer of skin contains the mechanoreceptors? Name two more items in this layer.
  3. Name the five types of nerve endings and their specialization.