Tactile stimulation interventions: Influence of stimulation parameters on sensorimotor behavior and neurophysiological correlates in healthy and clinical samples

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The pure exposure to extensive tactile stimulation, without the requirement of attention or active training, has been revealed to enhance sensorimotor functioning presumably due to an induction of plasticity in the somatosensory cortex. The induced effects, including increased tactile acuity and manual dexterity have repeatedly been observed in basic as well as clinical research. However, results vary greatly in respect to the strength and direction of the effects on the behavioral and on the brain level. Multiple evidences show that differences in the stimulation protocols (e.g., two vs. multiple stimulation sites) and parameters (e.g., duration, frequency, and amplitude) might contribute to this variability of effects. Nevertheless, stimulation protocols have not been comprehensively compared yet. Identifying favorable parameters for tactile stimulation interventions is especially important because of its possible application as a treatment option for patients suffering from sensory loss, maladaptive plasticity, or certain forms of motor impairment. This review aims to compare the effects of different tactile stimulation protocols and to assess possible implications for tactile interventions. Our goal is to identify ways of optimizing stimulation protocols to improve sensorimotor performance. To this end, we reviewed research on tactile stimulation in the healthy population, with a focus on the effectiveness of the applied parameters regarding psychophysiological measures. We discuss the association of stimulation-induced changes on the behavioral level with alterations in neural representations and response characteristics.

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