The role of the right temporoparietal junction in the elicitation of vicarious experiences and detection accuracy while observing pain and touch.

Research paper by S S Vandenbroucke, L L Bardi, C C Lamm, L L Goubert

Indexed on: 29 Dec '15Published on: 29 Dec '15Published in: Experimental Brain Research


This study investigated the effects of observing pain and touch in others upon vicarious somatosensory experiences and the detection of subtle somatosensory stimuli. Furthermore, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) was used to assess the role of the right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ), as this brain region has been suggested to be involved in perspective taking and self-other distinction. Undergraduates (N = 22) viewed videos depicting hands being touched, hands being pricked, and control scenes (same approaching movement as in the other video categories but without the painful/touching object), while experiencing vibrotactile stimuli themselves on the left, right, or both hands. Participants reported the location at which they felt a somatosensory stimulus. Vibrotactile stimuli and visual scenes were applied in a congruent or incongruent way. During three separate testing sessions, excitability of the rTPJ was modulated with tDCS (cathodal, anodal, or sham). We calculated the proportion of correct responses and false alarms (i.e., number of trials in which a vicarious somatosensory experience was reported congruent to the site of the visual information). Pain-related scenes facilitated the correct detection of tactile stimuli and augmented the number of vicarious somatosensory experiences compared with observing touch or control videos. Stimulation of the rTPJ had no reliable influence upon detection accuracy or the number of vicarious errors. This study indicates that the observation of pain-related scenes compared to the observation of touch or control videos increases the likelihood that a somatosensory stimulus is detected. Contrary to our expectations, the rTPJ did not modulate detection accuracy.