Abstract

In the present study we report neuropsychological evidence of the existence of an auditory peripersonal space representation around the head in humans and its characteristics. In a group of right brain-damaged patients with tactile extinction, we found that a sound delivered near the ipsilesional side of the head (20 cm) strongly extinguished a tactile stimulus delivered to the contralesional side of the head (cross-modal auditory-tactile extinction). By contrast, when an auditory stimulus was presented far from the head (70 cm), cross-modal extinction was dramatically reduced. This spatially specific cross-modal extinction was most consistently found (i.e., both in the front and back spaces) when a complex sound was presented, like a white noise burst. Pure tones produced spatially specific cross-modal extinction when presented in the back space, but not in the front space. In addition, the most severe cross-modal extinction emerged when sounds came from behind the head, thus showing that the back space is more sensitive than the front space to the sensory interaction of auditory-tactile inputs. Finally, when cross-modal effects were investigated by reversing the spatial arrangement of cross-modal stimuli (i.e., touch on the right and sound on the left), we found that an ipsilesional tactile stimulus, although inducing a small amount of cross-modal tactile-auditory extinction, did not produce any spatial-specific effect. Therefore, the selective aspects of cross-modal interaction found near the head cannot be explained by a competition between a damaged left spatial representation and an intact right spatial representation. Thus, consistent with neurophysiological evidence from monkeys, our findings strongly support the existence, in humans, of an integrated cross-modal system coding auditory and tactile stimuli near the body, that is, in the peripersonal space.

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