Different mechanisms of magnitude and spatial representation for tactile and auditory modalities

Exp Brain Res. 2021 Oct;239(10):3123-3132. doi: 10.1007/s00221-021-06196-4. Epub 2021 Aug 20.


The human brain creates an external world representation based on magnitude judgments by estimating distance, numerosity, or size. The magnitude and spatial representation are hypothesized to rely on common mechanisms shared by different sensory modalities. We explored the relationship between magnitude and spatial representation using two different sensory systems. We hypothesize that the interaction between space and magnitude is combined differently depending on sensory modalities. Furthermore, we aimed to understand the role of the spatial reference frame in magnitude representation. We used stimulus-response compatibility (SRC) to investigate these processes assuming that performance is improved if stimulus and response share common features. We designed an auditory and tactile SRC task with conflicting spatial and magnitude mapping. Our results showed that sensory modality modulates the relationship between space and magnitude. A larger effect of magnitude over spatial congruency occurred in a tactile task. However, magnitude and space showed similar weight in the auditory task, with neither spatial congruency nor magnitude congruency having a significant effect. Moreover, we observed that the spatial frame activated during tasks was elicited by the sensory inputs. The participants' performance was reversed in the tactile task between uncrossed and crossed hands posture, suggesting an internal coordinate system. In contrast, crossing the hands did not alter performance (i.e., using an allocentric frame of reference). Overall, these results suggest that space and magnitude interaction differ in auditory and tactile modalities, supporting the idea that these sensory modalities use different magnitude and spatial representation mechanisms.

Keywords: Audition; Frame of reference; Magnitude; Spatial representation; Touch.

MeSH terms

  • Hand
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Posture
  • Space Perception
  • Touch
  • Touch Perception*