Infoscience

Journal article

Early and late activity in somatosensory cortex reflects changes in bodily self-consciousness: An evoked potential study

How can we investigate the brain mechanisms underlying self-consciousness? Recent behavioural studies on multisensory bodily perception have shown that multisensory conflicts can alter bodily self-consciousness such as in the "full body illusion" (FBI) in which changes in self-identification with a virtual body and tactile perception are induced. Here we investigated whether experimental changes in self-identification during the FBI are accompanied by activity changes in somatosensory cortex by recording somatosensory-evoked potentials (SEPs). To modulate self-identification, participants were filmed by a video camera from behind while their backs were stroked, either synchronously (illusion condition) or asynchronously (control condition) with respect to the stroking seen on their virtual body. Tibial nerve SEPs were recorded during the FBI and analysed using evoked potential (EP) mapping. Tactile mislocalisation was measured using the crossmodal congruency task. SEP mapping revealed five sequential periods of brain activation during the FBI, of which two differed between the illusion condition and the control condition. Activation at 30-50ms (corresponding to the P40 component) in primary somatosensory cortex was stronger in the illusion condition. A later activation at ∼110-200ms, likely originating in higher-tier somatosensory regions in parietal cortex, was stronger and lasted longer in the control condition. These data show that changes in bodily self-consciousness modulate activity in primary and higher-tier somatosensory cortex at two distinct processing steps. We argue that early modulations of primary somatosensory cortex may be a consequence of (1) multisensory integration of synchronous vs. asynchronous visuo-tactile stimuli and/or (2) differences in spatial attention (to near or far space) between the conditions. The later activation in higher-tier parietal cortex (and potentially other regions in temporo-parietal and frontal cortex) likely reflects the detection of visuo-tactile conflicts in the asynchronous condition.

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