Published on Tue Nov 03 2020

Action enhances predicted touch

Thomas, E. R., Yon, D., de Lange, F. P., Press, C.

It is widely believed that predicted tactile action outcomes are perceptually attenuated. We manipulated probabilistic expectations in a paradigm often used to demonstrate tactile attenuation. We found that expected touch during action is perceived more intensely than unexpected touch. These findings challenge a central tenet of prominent motor control theories.

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Abstract

It is widely believed that predicted tactile action outcomes are perceptually attenuated. The present experiments determined whether predictive mechanisms always generate attenuation, or instead can enhance perception - as typically observed in sensory cognition domains outside of action. We manipulated probabilistic expectations in a paradigm often used to demonstrate tactile attenuation. Participants produced actions and subsequently rated the intensity of forces on a passive finger. Experiment 1 confirmed previous findings that action outcomes are perceived less intensely than passive stimulation, but demonstrated more intense perception when active finger stimulation was removed. Experiments 2 and 3 manipulated prediction explicitly and found that expected touch during action is perceived more intensely than unexpected touch. Computational modelling suggested that expectations increase the gain afforded to expected tactile signals. These findings challenge a central tenet of prominent motor control theories and demonstrate that sensorimotor predictions do not exhibit a qualitatively distinct influence on tactile perception. Statement of RelevancePerception of expected action outcomes is thought to be attenuated. Such a mechanism may be adaptive because surprising inputs are more useful - e.g., signalling the need to take new courses of action - and is thought to explain why we cannot tickle ourselves and unusual aspects of action and awareness in clinical populations. However, theories outside of action purport that predicted events are perceptually facilitated, allowing us to generate largely accurate representations of our noisy sensory world. We do not know whether action predictions really alter perception differently from other predictions because different manipulations have been performed. Here we perform similar manipulations and demonstrate that action predictions can enhance, rather than attenuate, touch. We thereby demonstrate that action predictions may not have a qualitatively distinct influence on perception, such that we must re-examine theories concerning how predictions influence perception across domains and clinical theories based upon their assumptions.