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Full Access The feeling of vision: Induction of mirror-touch synaesthesia by increasing of somatosensory cortical excitability

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The feeling of vision: Induction of mirror-touch synaesthesia by increasing of somatosensory cortical excitability

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image of Multisensory Research
For more content, see Seeing and Perceiving and Spatial Vision.

Brain imaging studies have shown the existence of a mirror network for touch, which allows for an automatic and unconscious simulation of others’ somatic states (Keysers et al., 2010). In everyday life, we are typically unaware of this process likely because the system is physiologically active below the threshold of perceptual awareness. However, in persons with mirror-touch synaesthesia, the sight of a touch on another person elicits conscious tactile experiences on their own bodies (Blakemore et al., 2005). In a sham-controlled study (healthy participants, N = 32 ), by combining anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS, 1.5 mA, 16 min) with a vision-touch interference task developed for studying mirror-touch synaesthesia (Banissy and Ward, 2007), we show that the enhancement of cortical excitability in the primary somatosensory cortex promotes the emergence of synaesthesia-like effects even in non-synaesthetes. Interestingly, these effects are linked with inter-individual differences in cognitive aspects of empathy. Conversely, increasing excitability in the premotor cortex facilitates the integration of spatially congruent viewed and felt touches, without inducing synaesthesia-like effects; the crossmodal facilitation by premotor tDCS is not associated with empathy, thereby confirming the functional dissociation between somatosensory and premotor areas within the tactile mirror system. This evidence indicates that mirror-touch synaesthesia reflects general crossmodal mechanisms associated with emphatic abilities: by increasing the excitability of the tactile mirror system, synaesthesia-like responses may be revealed in non-synaesthetic individuals.

Affiliations: 1: 1University of Milano Bicocca, Italy; 2: 2University of Brescia, Italy

Brain imaging studies have shown the existence of a mirror network for touch, which allows for an automatic and unconscious simulation of others’ somatic states (Keysers et al., 2010). In everyday life, we are typically unaware of this process likely because the system is physiologically active below the threshold of perceptual awareness. However, in persons with mirror-touch synaesthesia, the sight of a touch on another person elicits conscious tactile experiences on their own bodies (Blakemore et al., 2005). In a sham-controlled study (healthy participants, N = 32 ), by combining anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS, 1.5 mA, 16 min) with a vision-touch interference task developed for studying mirror-touch synaesthesia (Banissy and Ward, 2007), we show that the enhancement of cortical excitability in the primary somatosensory cortex promotes the emergence of synaesthesia-like effects even in non-synaesthetes. Interestingly, these effects are linked with inter-individual differences in cognitive aspects of empathy. Conversely, increasing excitability in the premotor cortex facilitates the integration of spatially congruent viewed and felt touches, without inducing synaesthesia-like effects; the crossmodal facilitation by premotor tDCS is not associated with empathy, thereby confirming the functional dissociation between somatosensory and premotor areas within the tactile mirror system. This evidence indicates that mirror-touch synaesthesia reflects general crossmodal mechanisms associated with emphatic abilities: by increasing the excitability of the tactile mirror system, synaesthesia-like responses may be revealed in non-synaesthetic individuals.

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/content/journals/10.1163/22134808-000s0087
2013-05-16
2016-12-09

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