A touching sight: SII/PV activation during the observation and experience of touch

Neuron. 2004 Apr 22;42(2):335-46. doi: 10.1016/s0896-6273(04)00156-4.


Watching the movie scene in which a tarantula crawls on James Bond's chest can make us literally shiver--as if the spider crawled on our own chest. What neural mechanisms are responsible for this "tactile empathy"? The observation of the actions of others activates the premotor cortex normally involved in the execution of the same actions. If a similar mechanism applies to the sight of touch, movies depicting touch should automatically activate the somatosensory cortex of the observer. Here we found using fMRI that the secondary but not the primary somatosensory cortex is activated both when the participants were touched and when they observed someone or something else getting touched by objects. The neural mechanisms enabling our own sensation of touch may therefore be a window also to our understanding of touch.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Touch / physiology*