Tactile Confusions of the Fingers and Toes

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Recent research has shown systematic patterns of confusions between digits of the hands and feet. The present study addressed whether such confusions arise from early somatosensory maps or higher level body representations. As the glabrous and hairy skin of the hands and feet have distinct representations in somatosensory cortex, an effect arising from early somatotopic maps may show distinct patterns on each skin surface. In contrast, if the effect arises from higher level body representations which represent the digits as volumetric units, similar patterns should be apparent regardless of which side of the digit is touched. We obtained confusion matrices showing the pattern of mislocalization on the glabrous and hairy skin surfaces of the toes (Experiment 1) and fingers (Experiment 2). Our results replicated the characteristic pattern of mislocalizations found on the glabrous skin reported in previous studies. Critically, these effects were highly similar on the hairy skin surface of both the toes and fingers. Despite the pattern of mislocalizations being highly stereotyped across participants, there were consistent individual differences in the pattern of confusions across the two skin surfaces. These results suggest that mislocalizations occur at the level of individual digits, consistent with their resulting from higher level body representations.

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