The right touch: Stroking of CT-innervated skin promotes vocal emotion processing

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2017 Dec;17(6):1129-1140. doi: 10.3758/s13415-017-0537-5.


Research has revealed a special mechanoreceptor, called C-tactile (CT) afferent, that is situated in hairy skin and that seems relevant for the processing of social touch. We pursued a possible role of this receptor in the perception of other social signals such as a person's voice. Participants completed three sessions in which they heard surprised and neutral vocal and nonvocal sounds and detected rare sound repetitions. In a given session, participants received no touch or soft brushstrokes to the arm (CT innervated) or palm (CT free). Event-related potentials elicited to sounds revealed that stroking to the arm facilitated the integration of vocal and emotional information. The late positive potential was greater for surprised vocal relative to neutral vocal and nonvocal sounds, and this effect was greater for arm touch relative to both palm touch and no touch. Together, these results indicate that stroking to the arm facilitates the allocation of processing resources to emotional voices, thus supporting the possibility that CT stimulation benefits social perception cross-modally.

Keywords: EEG; ERP; Emotion recognition; Nonverbal; Somatosensory.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychophysics
  • Reaction Time
  • Skin / innervation*
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Touch Perception / physiology*