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Published June 19, 2012 | Supplemental Material + Published
Journal Article Open

Primary somatosensory cortex discriminates affective significance in social touch


Another person's caress is one of the most powerful of all emotional social signals. How much the primary somatosensory cortices (SIs) participate in processing the pleasantness of such social touch remains unclear. Although ample empirical evidence supports the role of the insula in affective processing of touch, here we argue that SI might be more involved in affective processing than previously thought by showing that the response in SI to a sensual caress is modified by the perceived sex of the caresser. In a functional MRI study, we manipulated the perceived affective quality of a caress independently of the sensory properties at the skin: heterosexual males believed they were sensually caressed by either a man or woman, although the caress was in fact invariantly delivered by a female blind to condition type. Independent analyses showed that SI encoded, and was modulated by, the visual sex of the caress, and that this effect is unlikely to originate from the insula. This suggests that current models may underestimate the role played by SI in the affective processing of social touch.

Additional Information

© 2012 National Academy of Sciences. Freely available online through the PNAS open access option. Edited by Riitta Hari, School of Science, Aalto University, Espoo, Finland, and approved April 24, 2012 (received for review August 11, 2011). Published online before print June 4, 2012. This work was supported by a Marie Curie Excellence Grant of the European Commission (to C.K.); a Vidi Grant of the Netherlands Science Foundation (NWO) (to C.K.); a Veni Grant from NWO (to V.G.); Scripps College Faculty Research Grants (to M.L.S.); National Institutes of Health Grants (to R.A.); the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (R.A.); and the Tamagawa University Global Centers of Excellence Program of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, and Technology (R.A.). Author contributions: V.G., M.L.S., F.C., R.A., and C.K. designed research; V.G., M.L.S., F.C., and C.K. performed research; V.G., M.L.S., J.A.E., and C.K. analyzed data; and V.G., M.L.S., R.A., and C.K. wrote the paper.

Attached Files

Published - Gazzola_PNAS_1657_2012.pdf

Supplemental Material - pnas.201113211SI.pdf


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