Crossmodal influences on early somatosensory processing: interaction of vision, touch, and task-relevance
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Previous research suggests that somatosensory cortex is subject to modulation based on the relevancy of incoming somatosensory stimuli to behavioural goals. Recent fMRI findings provide evidence for modulation of primary somatosensory cortex when simultaneous visual and tactile stimuli were relevant to the performance of a motor task. The present study aimed to (1) determine the temporal characteristics of this modulation using event-related potentials (ERPs) and (2) investigate the role of task-relevance in mediating such a modulation. Electroencephalography was collected from healthy subjects during visual, vibrotactile or bimodal stimulation as they performed a sensory-guided motor task. Experiment 1 tested the hypothesis that simultaneous bimodal stimuli would be associated with modulation of somatosensory ERPs, and Experiment 2 tested the hypothesis that such effects would only be seen when both modalities are relevant. ERPs were time-locked to stimulus onset, and mean ERP amplitudes and latencies were extracted for the P50, P100, and N140. The bimodal condition in the first experiment was associated with larger amplitudes at both early and mid-latency components. The manipulation of task-relevance under bimodal conditions produced more complex results for the mid-latency components. For the P50, this enhancement was observed only when both stimuli were relevant, whereas the P100 was smallest when the tactile stimuli were not relevant to the response. These results provide evidence that crossmodal stimuli can modulate early somatosensory event-related potentials and that these effects are mediated by stimulus relevance.
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