Feeling touched: Emotional modulation of somatosensory potentials to interpersonal touch

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Although the previous studies have shown that an emotional context may alter touch processing, it is not clear how visual contextual information modulates the sensory signals, and at what levels does this modulation take place. Therefore, we investigated how a toucher's emotional expressions (anger, happiness, fear, and sadness) modulate touchee's somatosensory-evoked potentials (SEPs) in different temporal ranges. Participants were presented with tactile stimulation appearing to originate from expressive characters in virtual reality. Touch processing was indexed using SEPs, and self-reports of touch experience were collected. Early potentials were found to be amplified after angry, happy and sad facial expressions, while late potentials were amplified after anger but attenuated after happiness. These effects were related to two stages of emotional modulation of tactile perception: anticipation and interpretation. The findings show that not only does touch affect emotion, but also emotional expressions affect touch perception. The affective modulation of touch was initially obtained as early as 25 ms after the touch onset suggesting that emotional context is integrated to the tactile sensation at a very early stage.


Original languageEnglish
Article number40504
Number of pages11
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

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