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Movement Induces the Use of External Spatial Coordinates for Tactile Localization in Congenitally Blind Humans

In: Multisensory Research
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Tobias Heed 1Biological Psychology and Neuropsychology, University of Hamburg, Von-Melle-Park 11, 20146 Hamburg, Germany

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Johanna Möller 1Biological Psychology and Neuropsychology, University of Hamburg, Von-Melle-Park 11, 20146 Hamburg, Germany
2Heidekreis-Klinikum, Viktoria-Luise-Straße 5, 29614 Soltau, Germany

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Brigitte Röder 1Biological Psychology and Neuropsychology, University of Hamburg, Von-Melle-Park 11, 20146 Hamburg, Germany

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To localize touch, the brain integrates spatial information coded in anatomically based and external spatial reference frames. Sighted humans, by default, use both reference frames in tactile localization. In contrast, congenitally blind individuals have been reported to rely exclusively on anatomical coordinates, suggesting a crucial role of the visual system for tactile spatial processing. We tested whether the use of external spatial information in touch can, alternatively, be induced by a movement context. Sighted and congenitally blind humans performed a tactile temporal order judgment task that indexes the use of external coordinates for tactile localization, while they executed bimanual arm movements with uncrossed and crossed start and end postures. In the sighted, start posture and planned end posture of the arm movement modulated tactile localization for stimuli presented before and during movement, indicating automatic, external recoding of touch. Contrary to previous findings, tactile localization of congenitally blind participants, too, was affected by external coordinates, though only for stimuli presented before movement start. Furthermore, only the movement’s start posture, but not the planned end posture affected blind individuals’ tactile performance. Thus, integration of external coordinates in touch is established without vision, though more selectively than when vision has developed normally, and possibly restricted to movement contexts. The lack of modulation by the planned posture in congenitally blind participants suggests that external coordinates in this group are not mediated by motor efference copy. Instead the task-related frequent posture changes, that is, movement consequences rather than planning, appear to have induced their use of external coordinates.

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