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PLoS One. 2014 Jan 31;9(1):e87013. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0087013. eCollection 2014.

The importance of synchrony and temporal order of visual and tactile input for illusory limb ownership experiences - an FMRI study applying virtual reality.

Author information

  • 1Department of Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience, Central Institute of Mental Health, Medical Faculty Mannheim, Heidelberg University, Mannheim, Germany.
  • 2Department of Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience, Central Institute of Mental Health, Medical Faculty Mannheim, Heidelberg University, Mannheim, Germany ; Department of Psychology, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, United States of America.
  • 3Department of Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience, Central Institute of Mental Health, Medical Faculty Mannheim, Heidelberg University, Mannheim, Germany ; Department of Psychology, University of Koblenz-Landau, Landau, Germany.
  • 4Institute for Applied Computer Science, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen, Germany.

Abstract

In the so-called rubber hand illusion, synchronous visuotactile stimulation of a visible rubber hand together with one's own hidden hand elicits ownership experiences for the artificial limb. Recently, advanced virtual reality setups were developed to induce a virtual hand illusion (VHI). Here, we present functional imaging data from a sample of 25 healthy participants using a new device to induce the VHI in the environment of a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system. In order to evaluate the neuronal robustness of the illusion, we varied the degree of synchrony between visual and tactile events in five steps: in two conditions, the tactile stimulation was applied prior to visual stimulation (asynchrony of -300 ms or -600 ms), whereas in another two conditions, the tactile stimulation was applied after visual stimulation (asynchrony of +300 ms or +600 ms). In the fifth condition, tactile and visual stimulation was applied synchronously. On a subjective level, the VHI was successfully induced by synchronous visuotactile stimulation. Asynchronies between visual and tactile input of ±300 ms did not significantly diminish the vividness of illusion, whereas asynchronies of ±600 ms did. The temporal order of visual and tactile stimulation had no effect on VHI vividness. Conjunction analyses of functional MRI data across all conditions revealed significant activation in bilateral ventral premotor cortex (PMv). Further characteristic activation patterns included bilateral activity in the motion-sensitive medial superior temporal area as well as in the bilateral Rolandic operculum, suggesting their involvement in the processing of bodily awareness through the integration of visual and tactile events. A comparison of the VHI-inducing conditions with asynchronous control conditions of ±600 ms yielded significant PMv activity only contralateral to the stimulation site. These results underline the temporal limits of the induction of limb ownership related to multisensory body-related input.

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