Our sense of touch is unique in that our tactile receptors are spread across our body surface and constantly receive different inputs at the same time. These inputs vary in relevance according to our current goals, but there is little research on how simultaneous stimulation to different body sites affects the perception of touch. In this series of studies, we characterised how irrelevant tactile sensations across the body-midline affect tactile detection in a constantly-attended body site. Participants had to detect a target on their dominant index finger, while receiving irrelevant stimulation to another body site (homologous and non-homologous fingers, and the contralateral ankle). We document robust interference effects on all measured body-sites. Its impact on detection-performance was unaffected by body posture, exacerbated by the intensity of the irrelevant stimulation, and ameliorated by embedding a target-like signal in the irrelevant stimulation. In addition, we generalise our findings beyond the target stimulus (i.e., a vibration intensity decrement) and report similar effects when employing a target-increment. In light of our findings, we propose that tactile inputs may be pooled together early in the hierarchy of somatosensory processing, resulting in an integrated percept. The rules for integration across body sides are likely not described by a simple summation, but rather may be governed by more complex interactions between fingers and according to the corresponding perceived, as well as actual, intensities of the stimulation.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience