Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
We investigated why self-produced tactile stimulation is perceived as less intense than the same stimulus produced externally. A tactile stimulus on the palm of the right hand was either externally produced, by a robot or self-produced by the subject. In the conditions in which the tactile stimulus was self-produced, subjects moved the arm of a robot with their left hand to produce the tactile stimulus on their right hand via a second robot. Subjects were asked to rate intensity of the tactile sensation and consistently rated self-produced tactile stimuli as less tickly, intense, and pleasant than externally produced tactile stimuli. Using this robotic setup we were able to manipulate the correspondence between the action of the subjects' left hand and the tactile stimulus on their right hand. First, we parametrically varied the delay between the movement of the left hand and the resultant movement of the tactile stimulus on the right hand. Second, we implemented varying degrees of trajectory perturbation and varied the direction of the tactile stimulus movement as a function of the direction of left-hand movement. The tickliness rating increased significantly with increasing delay and trajectory perturbation. This suggests that self-produced movements attenuate the resultant tactile sensation and that a necessary requirement of this attenuation is that the tactile stimulus and its causal motor command correspond in time and space. We propose that the extent to which self-produced tactile sensation is attenuated (i.e., its tickliness) is proportional to the error between the sensory feedback predicted by an internal forward model of the motor system and the actual sensory feedback produced by the movement.