Modulating vicarious tactile perception with transcranial electrical current stimulation

Natalie C. Bowling*, Michael J. Banissy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Our capacity to share the experiences of others is a critical part of social behaviour. One process thought to be important for this is vicarious perception. Passively viewing touch activates some of the same network of brain regions as the direct experience of touch. This vicarious experience is usually implicit, but for some people, viewing touch evokes conscious tactile sensations (mirror-touch synaesthesia). Recent work has attempted to induce conscious vicarious touch in those that do not normally experience these sensations, using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). Anodal tDCS applied to primary somatosensory cortex (SI) was found to induce behavioural performance akin to mirror-touch synaesthesia on a visuotactile interference task. Here, we conducted two experiments that sought to replicate and extend these findings by examining: (i) the effects of tDCS and high-frequency transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS) targeted at SI and temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) on vicarious tactile perception, (ii) the extent to which any stimulation effects were specific to viewing touch to humans vs. inanimate agents and (iii) the influence of visual perspective (viewing touch from one's own vs. another's perspective) on vicarious perception. In Experiment 1, tRNS targeted at SI did not modulate vicarious perception. In Experiment 2, tDCS targeted at SI, but not TPJ, resulted in some modulation of vicarious perception, but there were important caveats to this effect. Implications regarding mechanisms of vicarious perception are discussed. Collectively, the findings do not provide convincing evidence for the potential to modulate vicarious tactile perception with transcranial electrical current stimulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2355-2364
Number of pages10
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
MB was supported by the ESRC [ES/K00882X/1] and BIAL [74/12].

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Authors. European Journal of Neuroscience published by Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • mirror-touch synaesthesia
  • primary somatosensory cortex
  • temporo-parietal junction
  • transcranial direct current stimulation
  • transcranial random noise stimulation


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