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Cereb Cortex. 2012 Sep;22(9):2055-64. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr283. Epub 2011 Oct 10.

Touch to see: neuropsychological evidence of a sensory mirror system for touch.

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Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy.


The observation of touch can be grounded in the activation of brain areas underpinning direct tactile experience, namely the somatosensory cortices. What is the behavioral impact of such a mirror sensory activity on visual perception? To address this issue, we investigated the causal interplay between observed and felt touch in right brain-damaged patients, as a function of their underlying damaged visual and/or tactile modalities. Patients and healthy controls underwent a detection task, comprising visual stimuli depicting touches or without a tactile component. Touch and No-touch stimuli were presented in egocentric or allocentric perspectives. Seeing touches, regardless of the viewing perspective, differently affects visual perception depending on which sensory modality is damaged: In patients with a selective visual deficit, but without any tactile defect, the sight of touch improves the visual impairment; this effect is associated with a lesion to the supramarginal gyrus. In patients with a tactile deficit, but intact visual perception, the sight of touch disrupts visual processing, inducing a visual extinction-like phenomenon. This disruptive effect is associated with the damage of the postcentral gyrus. Hence, a damage to the somatosensory system can lead to a dysfunctional visual processing, and an intact somatosensory processing can aid visual perception.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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