Touch to see: Neuropsychological evidence of a sensory mirror system for touch

Nadia Bolognini, Elena Olgiati, Annalisa Xaiz, Lucio Posteraro, Francesco Ferraro, Angelo Maravita

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The observation of touch can be grounded in the activation of brain areas underpinning direct tactile experience, namely the somatosensory cortices. What is the behavioral impact of such a mirror sensory activity on visual perception? To address this issue, we investigated the causal interplay between observed and felt touch in right brain-damaged patients, as a function of their underlying damaged visual and/or tactile modalities. Patients and healthy controls underwent a detection task, comprising visual stimuli depicting touches or without a tactile component. Touch and No-touch stimuli were presented in egocentric or allocentric perspectives. Seeing touches, regardless of the viewing perspective, differently affects visual perception depending on which sensory modality is damaged: In patients with a selective visual deficit, but without any tactile defect, the sight of touch improves the visual impairment; this effect is associated with a lesion to the supramarginal gyrus. In patients with a tactile deficit, but intact visual perception, the sight of touch disrupts visual processing, inducing a visual extinction-like phenomenon. This disruptive effect is associated with the damage of the postcentral gyrus. Hence, a damage to the somatosensory system can lead to a dysfunctional visual processing, and an intact somatosensory processing can aid visual perception.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2055-2064
Number of pages10
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2012


  • crossmodal
  • mirror neuron system
  • somatosensory cortex
  • touch observation
  • visual processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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