Crossing the hands increases illusory self-touch
Manipulation of hand posture, such as crossing the hands, has been frequently used to study how the body and its immediately surrounding space are represented in the brain. Abundant data show that crossed arms posture impairs remapping of tactile stimuli from somatotopic to external space reference frame and deteriorates performance on several tactile processing tasks. Here we investigated how impaired tactile remapping affects the illusory self-touch, induced by the non-visual variant of the rubber hand illusion (RHI) paradigm. In this paradigm blindfolded participants (Experiment 1) had their hands either uncrossed or crossed over the body midline. The strength of illusory self-touch was measured with questionnaire ratings and proprioceptive drift. Our results showed that, during synchronous tactile stimulation, the strength of illusory self-touch increased when hands were crossed compared to the uncrossed posture. Follow-up experiments showed that the increase in illusion strength was not related to unfamiliar hand position (Experiment 2) and that it was equally strengthened regardless of where in the peripersonal space the hands were crossed (Experiment 3). However, while the boosting effect of crossing the hands was evident from subjective ratings, the proprioceptive drift was not modulated by crossed posture. Finally, in contrast to the illusion increase in the non-visual RHI, the crossed hand postures did not alter illusory ownership or proprioceptive drift in the classical, visuo-tactile version of RHI (Experiment 4). We argue that the increase in illusory self-touch is related to misalignment of somatotopic and external reference frames and consequently inadequate tactile-proprioceptive integration, leading to re-weighting of the tactile and proprioceptive signals.The present study not only shows that illusory self-touch can be induced by crossing the hands, but importantly, that this posture is associated with a stronger illusion.