Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 216, Issue 4, pp 489–497 | Cite as

Hands behind your back: effects of arm posture on tactile attention in the space behind the body

Research Article


Previous research has shown that tactile-spatial information originating from the front of the body is remapped from an anatomical to an external spatial coordinate system, guided by the availability of visual information early in development. Comparably little is known about regions of space for which visual information is not typically available, such as the space behind the body. This study tests for the first time the electrophysiological correlates of the effects of proprioceptive information on tactile-attentional mechanisms in the space behind the back. Observers were blindfolded and tactually cued to detect infrequent tactile targets on either their left or right hand and to respond to them either vocally or with index finger movements. We measured event-related potentials to tactile probes on the hands in order to explore tactile-spatial attention when the hands were either held close together or far apart behind the observer’s back. Results show systematic effects of arm posture on tactile-spatial attention different from those previously found for front space. While attentional selection is typically more effective for hands placed far apart than close together in front space, we found that selection occurred more rapidly for close than far hands behind the back, during both covert attention and movement preparation tasks. This suggests that proprioceptive space may “wrap” around the body, following the hands as they extend horizontally from the front body midline to the center of the back.


Tactile Spatial attention Somatosensory ERPs Body representation 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of EssexColchesterUK
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyCity University LondonLondonUK

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