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Laura Germine, Taylor Benson, Francesca Cohen, Christine Hooker; Individual differences in somatosensory processing and the recognition of complex emotional states. Journal of Vision 2012;12(9):969. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/12.9.969.
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Simulation theories of social cognition propose that to recognize the facial expressions of another person, we use our own somatomotor representations of that facial expression (Adolphs, 2002). Based on this theory, one might predict that individual differences in the ability to recognize emotional states are related to individual differences in sensitivity to somatosensory input, such as tactile discrimination ability and sensitivity to visual-tactile integration (or visual-tactile integration). To test these hypotheses, we administered the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test (RMIE; a measure of recognition for complex emotional states; Baron-Cohen et al., 2001), a two-point discrimination test, and a rubber hand illusion induction procedure. In the rubber hand illusion, synchronous brush strokes are administered to the participant’s hand and a rubber hand to induce a subjective feeling of body ownership of the rubber hand. Critically, individuals vary in their susceptibility to this illusion: approximately 40% of individuals eventually experience the strong sense that the rubber hand is their own hand (Botvinick & Cohen, 1998). The illusion is putatively related to visual-tactile integration, as it is disrupted by asynchronous stimulation of the participant’s hand and the rubber hand (Tsakiris & Haggard, 2005). In a sample of 55 individuals, we found that two point discrimination abilities predicted RMIE scores (r = 0.34, p <0.01). Susceptibility to the rubber hand illusion during synchronous stimulation also predicted RMIE scores (r = 0.35, p <0.01). This relationship was specific to synchronous stimulation, suggesting that the relationship between RMIE scores and susceptibility to the rubber hand illusion was related to visual-tactile integration as opposed to reporting bias or suggestibility. Our findings indicate that recognition of complex emotions is related to both tactile discrimination ability and sensitivity to bottom-up cues driving visual-tactile integration, supporting a relationship between somatosensory processes and social perception.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2012
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