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In your skin? Somatosensory cortex is purposely recruited to situate but not simulate vicarious touch

Forster, B. ORCID: 0000-0001-5126-7854 & Abad-Hernando, S. (2024). In your skin? Somatosensory cortex is purposely recruited to situate but not simulate vicarious touch. NeuroImage, 289, article number 120561. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2024.120561


Previous studies of vicarious touch suggest that we automatically simulate observed touch experiences in our own body representation including primary and secondary somatosensory cortex (SCx). However, whether these early sensory areas are activated in a reflexive manner and the extent with which such SCx activations represent touch qualities, like texture, remains unclear. We measured event-related potentials (ERPs) of SCx's hierarchical processing stages, which map onto successive somatosensory ERP components, to investigate the timing of vicarious touch effects. In the first experiment, participants (n = 43) merely observed touch or no-touch to a hand; in the second, participants saw different touch textures (soft foam and hard rubber) either touching a hand (other-directed) or they were instructed that the touch was self-directed and to feel the touch. Each touch sequence was followed by a go/no-go task. We probed SCx activity and isolated SCx vicarious touch activations from visual carry over effects. We found that vicarious touch conditions (touch versus no-touch and soft versus hard) did not modulate early sensory ERP components (i.e. P50, N80); but we found effects on behavioural responses to the subsequent go/no-go stimulus consistent with post-perceptual effects. When comparing other- with self-directed touch conditions, we found that early and mid-latency components (i.e. P50, N80, P100, N140) were modulated consistent with early SCx activations. Importantly, these early sensory activations were not modulated by touch texture. Therefore, SCx is purposely recruited when participants are instructed to attend to touch; but such activation only situates, rather than fully simulates, the seen tactile experience in SCx.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons CC-BY license, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Publisher Keywords: ERPs, Simulation, Somatosensory, Texture, Touch observation
Subjects: R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
SWORD Depositor:
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