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The recalibration of tactile perception during tool use is body-part specific


Two decades of research have demonstrated that using a tool modulates spatial representations of the body. Whether this embodiment is specific to representations of the tool-using limb or extends to representations of other body parts has received little attention. Several studies of other perceptual phenomena have found that modulations to the primary somatosensory representation of the hand transfers to the face, due in part to their close proximity in primary somatosensory cortex. In the present study, we investigated whether tool-induced recalibration of tactile perception on the hand transfers to the cheek. Participants verbally estimated the distance between two tactile points applied to either their hand or face, before and after using a hand-shaped tool. Tool use recalibrated tactile distance perception on the hand—in line with previous findings—but left perception on the cheek unchanged. This finding provides support for the idea that embodiment is body-part specific. Furthermore, it suggests that tool-induced perceptual recalibration occurs at a level of somatosensory processing, where representations of the hand and face have become functionally disentangled.

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This research was supported by the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind, UCSD. LM was additionally supported by an NIMH training grant from the Institute for Neural Computation, UCSD; APS by NSF (CAREER BCS1151805) and DARPA; and MRL by European Research Council Grant ERC-StG-336050 under the FP7.

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LM designed the experiment, analyzed the data, and wrote the paper. ACB collected and analyzed the data. MRL supervised the project and wrote the paper. APS supervised the project and wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Luke E. Miller.

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Miller, L.E., Cawley-Bennett, A., Longo, M.R. et al. The recalibration of tactile perception during tool use is body-part specific. Exp Brain Res 235, 2917–2926 (2017).

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