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Conscious Cogn. 2008 Dec;17(4):1181-91. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2008.01.001. Epub 2008 Feb 21.

Visual enhancement of touch and the bodily self.

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  • 1Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, 17 Queen Square, London WC1N 3AR, UK. m.longo@ucl.ac.uk


We experience our own body through both touch and vision. We further see that others' bodies are similar to our own body, but we have no direct experience of touch on others' bodies. Therefore, relations between vision and touch are important for the sense of self and for mental representation of one's own body. For example, seeing the hand improves tactile acuity on the hand, compared to seeing a non-hand object. While several studies have demonstrated this visual enhancement of touch (VET) effect, its relation to the 'bodily self', or mental representation of one's own body remains unclear. We examined whether VET is an effect of seeing a hand, or of seeing my hand, using the rubber hand illusion. In this illusion, a prosthetic hand which is brushed synchronously--but not asynchronously--with one's own hand is felt to actually be one's hand. Thus, we manipulated whether or not participants felt like they were looking directly at their hand, while holding the actual stimulus they viewed constant. Tactile acuity was measured by having participants judge the orientation of square-wave gratings. Two characteristic effects of VET were observed: (1) cross-modal enhancement from seeing the hand was inversely related to overall tactile acuity, and (2) participants near sensory threshold showed significant improvement following synchronous stroking, compared to asynchronous stroking or no stroking at all. These results demonstrate a clear functional relation between the bodily self and basic tactile perception.

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