Abstract

Multisensory integration processes are fundamental to our sense of self as embodied beings. Bodily illusions, such as the rubber hand illusion (RHI) and the size–weight illusion (SWI), allow us to investigate how the brain resolves conflicting multisensory evidence during perceptual inference in relation to different facets of body representation. In the RHI, synchronous tactile stimulation of a participant's hidden hand and a visible rubber hand creates illusory body ownership; in the SWI, the perceived size of the body can modulate the estimated weight of external objects. According to Bayesian models, such illusions arise as an attempt to explain the causes of multisensory perception and may reflect the attenuation of somatosensory precision, which is required to resolve perceptual hypotheses about conflicting multisensory input. Recent hypotheses propose that the precision of sensorimotor representations is determined by modulators of synaptic gain, like dopamine, acetylcholine, and oxytocin. However, these neuromodulatory hypotheses have not been tested in the context of embodied multisensory integration. The present, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study (n = 41 healthy volunteers) aimed to investigate the effect of intranasal oxytocin (IN-OT) on multisensory integration processes, tested by means of the RHI and the SWI. Results showed that IN-OT enhanced the subjective feeling of ownership in the RHI, only when synchronous tactile stimulation was involved. Furthermore, IN-OT increased an embodied version of the SWI (quantified as estimation error during a weight estimation task). These findings suggest that oxytocin might modulate processes of visuotactile multisensory integration by increasing the precision of top–down signals against bottom–up sensory input.

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