Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 180, Issue 1, pp 187–193 | Cite as

Viewing the body modulates tactile receptive fields

  • Patrick HaggardEmail author
  • Anastasia Christakou
  • Andrea Serino
Research Note


Tactile discrimination performance depends on the receptive field (RF) size of somatosensory cortical (SI) neurons. Psychophysical masking effects can reveal the RF of an idealized “virtual” somatosensory neuron. Previous studies show that top–down factors strongly affect tactile discrimination performance. Here, we show that non-informative vision of the touched body part influences tactile discrimination by modulating tactile RFs. Ten subjects performed spatial discrimination between touch locations on the forearm. Performance was improved when subjects saw their forearm compared to viewing a neutral object in the same location. The extent of visual information was relevant, since restricted view of the forearm did not have this enhancing effect. Vibrotactile maskers were placed symmetrically on either side of the tactile target locations, at two different distances. Overall, masking significantly impaired discrimination performance, but the spatial gradient of masking depended on what subjects viewed. Viewing the body reduced the effect of distant maskers, but enhanced the effect of close maskers, as compared to viewing a neutral object. We propose that viewing the body improves functional touch by sharpening tactile RFs in an early somatosensory map. Top–down modulation of lateral inhibition could underlie these effects.


Touch Vision Multisensory Body representation Masking 



This research was supported by grants from the BBSRC and the British Academy to PH.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick Haggard
    • 1
    Email author
  • Anastasia Christakou
    • 2
  • Andrea Serino
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Department of PsychologyUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Institute of PsychiatryKing’s College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Department of Psychology and Centro Studi e Ricerche in Neuroscienze CognitiveUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly

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