The focus of the current study is on a particular aspect of tactile perception: categorical segmentation on the body surface into discrete body parts. The MMN has been shown to be sensitive to categorical boundaries and language experience in the auditory modality. Here we recorded the somatosensory MMN (sMMN) using two tactile oddball protocols and compared sMMN amplitudes elicited by within- and across-boundary oddball pairs. Both protocols employed the identity MMN method that controls for responsivity at each body location. In the first protocol, we investigated the categorical segmentation of tactile space at the wrist by presenting pairs of tactile oddball stimuli across equal spatial distances, either across the wrist or within the forearm. Amplitude of the sMMN elicited by stimuli presented across the wrist boundary was significantly greater than for stimuli presented within the forearm, suggesting a categorical effect at an early stage of somatosensory processing. The second protocol was designed to investigate the generality of this MMN effect, and involved three digits on one hand. Amplitude of the sMMN elicited by a contrast of the third digit and the thumb was significantly larger than a contrast between the third and fifth digits, suggesting a functional boundary effect that may derive from the way that objects are typically grasped. These findings demonstrate that the sMMN is a useful index of processing of somatosensory spatial discrimination that can be used to study body part categories.

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