Implicit self-other discrimination affects the interplay between multisensory affordances of mental representations of faces

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Abstract

Face recognition is an apparently straightforward but, in fact, complex ability, encompassing the activation of at least visual and somatosensory representations. Understanding how identity shapes the interplay between these face-related affordances could clarify the mechanisms of self-other discrimination. To this aim, we exploited the so-called “face inversion effect” (FIE), a specific bias in the mental rotation of face images (of other people): with respect to inanimate objects, face images require longer time to be mentally rotated from the upside-down. Via the FIE, which suggests the activation of somatosensory mechanisms, we assessed identity-related changes in the interplay between visual and somatosensory affordances between self- and other-face representations. Methodologically, to avoid the potential interference of the somatosensory feedback associated with musculoskeletal movements, we introduced the tracking of gaze direction to record participants’ response. Response times from twenty healthy participants showed the larger FIE for self- than other-faces, suggesting that the impact of somatosensory affordances on mental representation of faces varies according to identity. The present study lays the foundations of a quantifiable method to implicitly assess self-other discrimination, with possible translational benefits for early diagnosis of face processing disturbances (e.g. prosopagnosia), and for neurophysiological studies on self-other discrimination in ethological settings.

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