Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Neuropsychologia. 2011 Apr;49(5):821-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.01.034. Epub 2011 Feb 21

Haptic perception and body representation in lateral and medial occipito-temporal cortices

Although vision is the primary sensory modality that humans and other primates use to identify objects in the environment, we can recognize crucial object features (e.g., shape, size) using the somatic modality. Previous studies have shown that the occipito-temporal areas dedicated to the visual processing of object forms, faces and bodies also show category-selective responses when the preferred stimuli are haptically explored out of view. Visual processing of human bodies engages specific areas in lateral (extrastriate body area, EBA) and medial (fusiform body area, FBA) occipito-temporal cortex. This study aimed at exploring the relative involvement of EBA and FBA in the haptic exploration of body parts. During fMRI scanning, participants were asked to haptically explore either real-size fake body parts or objects. We found a selective activation of right and left EBA, but not of right FBA, while participants haptically explored body parts as compared to real objects. This suggests that EBA may integrate visual body representations with somatosensory information regarding body parts and form a multimodal representation of the body. Furthermore, both left and right EBA showed a comparable level of body selectivity during haptic perception and visual imagery. However, right but not left EBA was more activated during haptic exploration than visual imagery of body parts, ruling out that the response to haptic body exploration was entirely due to the use of visual imagery. Overall, the results point to the existence of different multimodal body representations in the occipito-temporal cortex which are activated during perception and imagery of human body parts.

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