Implicit and Explicit Body Representations

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Several forms of perception require that sensory information be referenced to representations of the size and shape of the body. This requirement is especially acute in somatosensation in which the main receptor surface (i.e., the skin) is itself coextensive with the body. This paper reviews recent research investigating the body representations underlying somatosensory information processing, including abilities such as tactile localization, tactile size perception, and position sense. These representations show remarkably large and stereotyped distortions of represented body size and shape. Intriguingly, these distortions appear to mirror distortions characteristic of somatosensory maps, though in attenuated form. In contrast, when asked to make overt judgments about perceived body form, participants are generally quite accurate. This pattern of results suggests that higher-level somatosensory processing relies on a class of implicit body representation, distinct from the conscious body image. I discuss the implications of these results for understanding the nature of body representation and the factors that influence it.

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