Interpersonal representations of touch in somatosensory cortex are modulated by perspective

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Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University of Essex
  • Goldsmiths, University of London


Observing others being touched activates similar brain areas as those activated when one experiences a touch oneself. Event-related potential (ERP) studies have revealed that modulation of somatosensory components by observed touch occurs within 100 ms after stimulus onset, and such vicarious effects have been taken as evidence for empathy for others’ tactile experiences. In previous studies body parts have been presented from a first person perspective. This raises the question of the extent to which somatosensory activation by observed touch to body parts depends on the perspective from which the body part is observed. In this study (N = 18), we examined the modulation of somatosensory ERPs by observed touch delivered to another person’s hand when viewed as if from a first person versus a third person perspective. We found that vicarious touch effects primarily consist of two separable components in the early stages of somatosensory processing: an anatomical mapping for touch in first person perspective at P45, and a specular (mirror like) mapping for touch in third person perspective at P100. This is consistent with suggestions that vicarious representations exist to support predictions for one’s own bodily events, but also to enable predictions of a social or interpersonal kind, at distinct temporal stages.


Original languageEnglish
Article number107719
JournalBiological Psychology
Early online date14 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019


  • Somatosensory, vicarious touch, empathy, perspective, EEG, ERPs