A series of experiments demonstrated the role of higher level cognitive processes, such as attention, in tactile perception. The first series of experiments demonstrated that automatic orienting to a tactile stimulus resulted in inhibition of subsequent stimuli at that body site - inhibition of return (IOR). A possible explanation suggests that inhibition of saccades to a body site can cause the inhibition of subsequent stimuli presented to that same site. In contrast, when the subjects strategically oriented attention to the stimulus, the processing of subsequent stimuli at that body site was facilitated. In both of these experiments the skin received exactly the same test stimuli, (100 Hz sine wave presented for 50 ms), but very different effects were observed depending upon attentional strategy. Experimental manipulations showed that this cannot be due to a peripheral masking of the receptors after cue presentation to the target. Rather the results may be explained centrally by cognitive, particularly attentional mechanisms. Cross-modal interactions suggest that tactile processes are facilitated when vision is oriented to the body site receiving stimulation. Possible explanations come from recent findings of spatiotopic maps of different sensory modalities in the superior colliculus of the midbrain and in the parietal lobe. These are integrated with motor systems that control saccades and head orientation towards sensory inputs. Excitatory links among these maps could be the source of the observed facilitation effects.
- Inhibition of return
- Tactile perception