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Rubber hands feel touch, but not in blind individuals

Petkova, VI; Zetterberg, H; Ehrsson, HH; (2012) Rubber hands feel touch, but not in blind individuals. PLoS One , 7 (4) , Article e35912. 10.1371/journal.pone.0035912. Green open access

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Abstract

Psychology and neuroscience have a long-standing tradition of studying blind individuals to investigate how visual experience shapes perception of the external world. Here, we study how blind people experience their own body by exposing them to a multisensory body illusion: the somatic rubber hand illusion. In this illusion, healthy blindfolded participants experience that they are touching their own right hand with their left index finger, when in fact they are touching a rubber hand with their left index finger while the experimenter touches their right hand in a synchronized manner (Ehrsson et al. 2005). We compared the strength of this illusion in a group of blind individuals (n = 10), all of whom had experienced severe visual impairment or complete blindness from birth, and a group of age-matched blindfolded sighted participants (n = 12). The illusion was quantified subjectively using questionnaires and behaviorally by asking participants to point to the felt location of the right hand. The results showed that the sighted participants experienced a strong illusion, whereas the blind participants experienced no illusion at all, a difference that was evident in both tests employed. A further experiment testing the participants' basic ability to localize the right hand in space without vision (proprioception) revealed no difference between the two groups. Taken together, these results suggest that blind individuals with impaired visual development have a more veridical percept of self-touch and a less flexible and dynamic representation of their own body in space compared to sighted individuals. We speculate that the multisensory brain systems that re-map somatosensory signals onto external reference frames are less developed in blind individuals and therefore do not allow efficient fusion of tactile and proprioceptive signals from the two upper limbs into a single illusory experience of self-touch as in sighted individuals.

Type: Article
Title: Rubber hands feel touch, but not in blind individuals
Location: United States
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035912
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0035912
Language: English
Additional information: © 2012 Petkova et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. PMCID: PMC3338767
Keywords: Adult, Blindness, Female, Fingers, Hand, Humans, Middle Aged, Proprioception, Questionnaires, Rubber, Touch Perception, Visually Impaired Persons, Young Adult
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology > Neurodegenerative Diseases
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1411963
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