Growing evidence indicates that perceptual-motor codes may be associated with and influenced by actual bodily states. Following a spinal cord injury (SCI), for example, individuals exhibit reduced visual sensitivity to biological motion. However, a dearth of direct evidence exists about whether profound alterations in sensorimotor traffic between the body and brain influence audio-motor representations. We tested 20 wheelchair-bound individuals with lower skeletal-level SCI who were unable to feel and move their lower limbs, but have retained upper limb function. In a two-choice, matching-to-sample auditory discrimination task, the participants were asked to determine which of two action sounds matched a sample action sound presented previously. We tested aural discrimination ability using sounds that arose from wheelchair, upper limb, lower limb, and animal actions. Our results indicate that an inability to move the lower limbs did not lead to impairment in the discrimination of lower limb-related action sounds in SCI patients. Importantly, patients with SCI discriminated wheelchair sounds more quickly than individuals with comparable auditory experience (i.e. physical therapists) and inexperienced, able-bodied subjects. Audio-motor associations appear to be modified and enhanced to incorporate external salient tools that now represent extensions of their body schemas.
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