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J Neurosci. 2015 Jan 28;35(4):1468-80. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3621-14.2015.

Seeing is not feeling: posterior parietal but not somatosensory cortex engagement during touch observation.

Author information

1
Laboratory of Brain and Cognition, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892 wchan2@uthsc.edu.
2
Laboratory of Brain and Cognition, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892.

Abstract

Observing touch has been reported to elicit activation in human primary and secondary somatosensory cortices and is suggested to underlie our ability to interpret other's behavior and potentially empathy. However, despite these reports, there are a large number of inconsistencies in terms of the precise topography of activation, the extent of hemispheric lateralization, and what aspects of the stimulus are necessary to drive responses. To address these issues, we investigated the localization and functional properties of regions responsive to observed touch in a large group of participants (n = 40). Surprisingly, even with a lenient contrast of hand brushing versus brushing alone, we did not find any selective activation for observed touch in the hand regions of somatosensory cortex but rather in superior and inferior portions of neighboring posterior parietal cortex, predominantly in the left hemisphere. These regions in the posterior parietal cortex required the presence of both brush and hand to elicit strong responses and showed some selectivity for the form of the object or agent of touch. Furthermore, the inferior parietal region showed nonspecific tactile and motor responses, suggesting some similarity to area PFG in the monkey. Collectively, our findings challenge the automatic engagement of somatosensory cortex when observing touch, suggest mislocalization in previous studies, and instead highlight the role of posterior parietal cortex.

KEYWORDS:

action; empathy; hands; human fMRI; touch; vision

PMID:
25632124
PMCID:
PMC4308594
DOI:
10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3621-14.2015
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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