Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 233, Issue 2, pp 351–358 | Cite as

Visual detail about the body modulates tactile localisation biases

  • Aaron N. Margolis
  • Matthew R. Longo
Research Article


The localisation of tactile stimuli requires the integration of visual and somatosensory inputs within an internal representation of the body surface and is prone to consistent bias. Joints may play a role in segmenting such internal body representations, and may therefore influence tactile localisation biases, although the nature of this influence remains unclear. Here, we investigate the relationship between conceptual knowledge of joint locations and tactile localisation biases on the hand. In one task, participants localised tactile stimuli applied to the dorsum of their hand. A distal localisation bias was observed in all participants, consistent with previous results. We also manipulated the availability of visual information during this task, to determine whether the absence of this information could account for the distal bias observed here and by Mancini et al. (Neuropsychologia 49:1194–1201, 2011). The observed distal bias increased in magnitude when visual information was restricted, without a corresponding decrease in precision. In a separate task, the same participants indicated, from memory, knuckle locations on a silhouette image of their hand. Analogous distal biases were also seen in the knuckle localisation task. The accuracy of conceptual joint knowledge was not correlated with tactile localisation bias magnitude, although a similarity in observed bias direction suggests that both tasks may rely on a common, higher-order body representation. These results also suggest that distortions of conceptual body representation may be more common in healthy individuals than previously thought.


Touch Tactile localisation Body representation 



This research was supported by a Grant from the European Research Council (ERC-2013-StG-336050) to MRL.


  1. Alloway KD, Rosenthal P, Burton H (1989) Quantitative measurements of receptive field changes during antagonism of GABAergic transmission in primary somatosensory cortex of cats. Exp Brain Res 78:514–532PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Azañón E, Longo MR, Soto-Faraco S, Haggard P (2010) The posterior parietal cortex remaps touch into external space. Curr Biol 20:1304–1309PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Batschelet E (1981) Circular statistics in biology. Academic Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  4. Berens P (2009) CircStat: a MATLAB toolbox for circular statistics. J Stat Softw 31:1–21Google Scholar
  5. Bookstein FL (1991) Morphometric tools for landmark data. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  6. Boring EG (1942) Sensation and perception in the history of experimental psychology. Appleton-Century, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  7. Brooks VB, Rudomin P, Slayman CL (1961) Peripheral receptive fields of neurons in the cat’s cerebral cortex. J Neurophysiol 24:302–325Google Scholar
  8. Buxbaum LJ, Coslett HB (2001) Specialized structural descriptions for human body parts: evidence from autotopagnosia. Cogn Neuropsychol 18:289–306PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cash TF, Deagle EA III (1997) The nature and extent of body-image disturbances in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa: a meta-analysis. Int J Eat Disord 22:107–125PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cholewiak RW, Collins AA (2003) Vibrotactile localization on the arm: effects of place, space and age. Percept Psychophys 65:1058–1077PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cholewiak RW, Brill JC, Schwab A (2004) Vibrotactile localization on the abdomen: effects of place and space. Percept Psychophys 66:970–987PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cody FW, Garside RA, Lloyd D, Poliakoff E (2008) Tactile spatial acuity varies with site and axis in the human upper limb. Neurosci Lett 433:103–108PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Critchley M (1953) The parietal lobes. Edward Arnold & Co, LondonGoogle Scholar
  14. Culver CM (1970) Errors in tactile localization. Am J Psychol 83:420–427PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. de Vignemont F, Majid M, Jola C, Haggard P (2009) Segmenting the body into parts: evidence from biases in tactile perception. Q J Exp Psychol 62:500–512CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fuentes CT, Longo MR, Haggard P (2013) Body image distortions in healthy adults. Acta Psychol 144:344–351CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Harrar V, Harris LR (2009) Eye position affects the perceived location of touch. Exp Brain Res 198:403–410PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Harrar V, Pritchett LM, Harris LR (2013) Segmented space: measuring tactile localisation in body coordinates. Multisens Res 26:3–18PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Harris JA, Thein T, Clifford CW (2004) Dissociating detection from localization of tactile stimuli. J Neurosci 24:3683–3693PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kemmerer D, Tranel D (2008) Searching for the elusive neural substrates of body part terms: a neuropsychological study. Cogn Neuropsychol 25:601–629PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kennett S, Taylor-Clark M, Haggard P (2001) Noninformative vision improves the spatial resolution of touch in humans. Curr Biol 11:1188–1191PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Knight FLC, Longo MR, Bremner AJ (2014) Categorical perception of tactile distance. Cognition 131:254–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Longo MR, Haggard P (2010) An implicit body representation underlying human position sense. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 107:11727–11732PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Longo MR, Haggard P (2012) A 2.5-D representation of the human hand. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 38:9–13PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mancini F, Longo MR, Iannetti GD, Haggard P (2011) A supramodal representation of the body surface. Neuropsychologia 49:1194–1201PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Moore CE, Schady W (1995) Cutaneous localisation of laser induced pain in humans. Neurosci Lett 193:208–210PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Pritchett LM, Harris LR (2011) Perceived touch location is coded using a gaze signal. Exp Brain Res 213:229–234PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Pritchett LM, Carnevale MJ, Harris LR (2012) Reference frames for coding touch location depend on the task. Exp Brain Res 222:437–445PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Sirigu A, Grafman J, Bressler K, Sunderland T (1991) Multiple representations contribute to body knowledge processing. Brain 114:629–642PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Steenbergen P, Buitenweg JR, Trojan J, Klaassen B, Veltink PH (2012) Subject-level differences in reported locations of cutaneous tactile and nociceptive stimuli. Front Hum Neurosci 6:325PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Trojan J, Kleinböhl D, Stolle AM, Andersen OK, Hölzl R, Arendt-Nielsen L (2006) Psychophysical ‘perceptual maps’ of heat and pain sensations by direct localization of CO2 laser stimuli on the skin. Brain Res 1120:106–113PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Weber EH (1834/1996) De subtilitate tactus (H. E. Ross, Trans.). In: Ross HE, Murray DJ (eds) E. H. Weber on the tactile senses, 2nd edn (pp 21–128). Academic Press, London, pp 21–128Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological SciencesBirkbeck, University of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations