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Somatosensory processes subserving perception and action

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 August 2007

H. Chris Dijkerman
Department of Experimental Psychology, Helmholtz Research Institute, Utrecht University, 3584 CS Utrecht, The
Edward H. F. de Haan
Department of Experimental Psychology, Helmholtz Research Institute, Utrecht University, 3584 CS Utrecht, The


The functions of the somatosensory system are multiple. We use tactile input to localize and experience the various qualities of touch, and proprioceptive information to determine the position of different parts of the body with respect to each other, which provides fundamental information for action. Further, tactile exploration of the characteristics of external objects can result in conscious perceptual experience and stimulus or object recognition. Neuroanatomical studies suggest parallel processing as well as serial processing within the cerebral somatosensory system that reflect these separate functions, with one processing stream terminating in the posterior parietal cortex (PPC), and the other terminating in the insula. We suggest that, analogously to the organisation of the visual system, somatosensory processing for the guidance of action can be dissociated from the processing that leads to perception and memory. In addition, we find a second division between tactile information processing about external targets in service of object recognition and tactile information processing related to the body itself. We suggest the posterior parietal cortex subserves both perception and action, whereas the insula principally subserves perceptual recognition and learning.

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