A fundamental component of the self-awareness is the sensation that we are acting with our own body. Thus, a coherent sense of self implies the existence of a tight link between the sense of body ownership and the motor system. Here, we investigated this issue by taking advantage of a well-known experimental manipulation of body ownership, i.e., the rubber hand illusion (RHI), during which the subjects perceive a fake hand as part of their own body. To test the effect of the motor system down-regulation on the RHI susceptibility, we designed a sham-controlled study, where the primary motor cortex (M1) excitability was modulated by off-line low-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). After rTMS (real or sham), subjects underwent the RHI either on the right hand, contralateral to the inhibited hemisphere (Experiment 1), or on the left hand, ipsilateral to the inhibited hemisphere (Experiment 2). Only in Experiment 1, the procedure strengthened the illusory experience, as proved by a significant increase, in rTMS compared to Sham, of both subjective (Embodiment/Disembodiment Questionnaires) and objective (Proprioceptive Drift) RHI measures. This evidence demonstrates that, when the M1 activity is down-regulated, the sense of body ownership is attenuated and the subjects become more prone to incorporate an alien body part. This, in turn, supports the existence of a mutual interaction between the sense of body ownership and the motor system, shedding new light on the construction of a coherent sense of self as an acting body.
Keywords: body ownership; corticospinal excitability; low-frequency rTMS; motor system; rubber hand illusion.
© 2018 Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.