Tactile gap detection deteriorates during bimanual symmetrical movements under mirror visual feedback

Janet H. Bultitude, Georgiana Juravle, Charles Spence

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It has been suggested that incongruence between signals for motor intention and sensory input can cause pain and other sensory abnormalities. This claim is supported by reports that moving in an environment of induced sensorimotor conflict leads to elevated pain and sensory symptoms in those with certain painful conditions. Similar procedures can lead to reports of anomalous sensations in healthy volunteers too. In the present study, we used mirror visual feedback to investigate the effects of sensorimotor incongruence on responses to stimuli that arise from sources external to the body, in particular, touch. Incongruence between the sensory and motor signals for the right arm was manipulated by having the participants make symmetrical or asymmetrical movements while watching a reflection of their left arm in a parasagittal mirror, or the left hand surface of a similarly positioned opaque board. In contrast to our prediction, sensitivity to the presence of gaps in tactile stimulation of the right forearm was not reduced when participants made asymmetrical movements during mirror visual feedback, as compared to when they made symmetrical or asymmetrical movements with no visual feedback. Instead, sensitivity was reduced when participants made symmetrical movements during mirror visual feedback relative to the other three conditions. We suggest that small discrepancies between sensory and motor information, as they occur during mirror visual feedback with symmetrical movements, can impair tactile processing. In contrast, asymmetrical movements with mirror visual feedback may not impact tactile processing because the larger discrepancies between sensory and motor information may prevent the integration of these sources of information. These results contrast with previous reports of anomalous sensations during exposure to both low and high sensorimotor conflict, but are nevertheless in agreement with a forward model interpretation of perceptual modulations during goal directed movement.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0146077
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jan 2016


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