Interpersonal representations of touch in somatosensory cortex are modulated by perspective

Rigato, Silvia; Bremner, Andrew J.; Gillmeister, Helge and Banissy, Michael J.. 2019. Interpersonal representations of touch in somatosensory cortex are modulated by perspective. Biological Psychology, 146(107719), ISSN 1873-6246 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Observing others being touched activates similar brain areas as those activated when one experiences a touch oneself. Event-related potential (ERP) studies have revealed that modulation of somatosensory components by observed touch occurs within 100 ms after stimulus onset, and such vicarious effects have been taken as evidence for empathy for others' tactile experiences. In previous studies body parts have been presented from a first person perspective. This raises the question of the extent to which somatosensory activation by observed touch to body parts depends on the perspective from which the body part is observed. In this study (N = 18), we examined the modulation of somatosensory ERPs by observed touch delivered to another person's hand when viewed as if from a first person versus a third person perspective. We found that vicarious touch effects primarily consist of two separable components in the early stages of somatosensory processing: an anatomical mapping for touch in first person perspective at P45, and a specular (mirror like) mapping for touch in third person perspective at P100. This is consistent with suggestions that vicarious representations exist to support predictions for one's own bodily events, but also to enable predictions of a social or interpersonal kind, at distinct temporal stages.

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This research was supported by a BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grant (SG122330) awarded to SR, AJB and MJB, a European Research Council grant 241242 (European Commission Framework Programme 7) awarded to AJB, and an ESRC grant [ES/R007527/1] awarded to MJB.


Somatosensory, vicarious touch, empathy, perspective, EEG, ERPs

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12 June 2019Accepted
14 June 2019Published Online
September 2019Published

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Date Deposited:

02 Oct 2019 09:53

Last Modified:

10 Jun 2021 18:10

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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