Ensemble neuronal activity was recorded in each layer of the whisker area of the primary somatosensory cortex (SI) while rats performed a whisker-dependent tactile discrimination task. Comparison of this activity with SI activity evoked by similar passive whisker stimulation revealed fundamental differences in tactile signal processing during active and passive stimulation. Moreover, significant layer-specific functional differences in SI activity were observed during active discrimination. These differences could not be explained solely by variations in ascending thalamocortical input to SI. Instead, these results suggest that top-down influences during active discrimination may alter the overall functional nature of SI as well as layer-specific mechanisms of tactile processing.