Causal Inference of Body Ownership in the Posterior Parietal Cortex

J Neurosci. 2022 Sep 14;42(37):7131-7143. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0656-22.2022. Epub 2022 Aug 8.


How do we come to sense that a hand in view belongs to our own body or not? Previous studies have suggested that the integration of vision and somatosensation in the frontoparietal areas plays a critical role in the sense of body ownership (i.e., the multisensory perception of limbs and body parts as our own). However, little is known about how these areas implement the multisensory integration process at the computational level and whether activity predicts illusion elicitation in individual participants on a trial-by-trial basis. To address these questions, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging and a rubber hand illusion-detection task and fitted the registered neural responses to a Bayesian causal inference model of body ownership. Thirty healthy human participants (male and female) performed 12 s trials with varying degrees of asynchronously delivered visual and tactile stimuli of a rubber hand (in view) and a (hidden) real hand. After the 12 s period, participants had to judge whether the rubber hand felt like their own. As hypothesized, activity in the premotor and posterior parietal cortices was related to illusion elicitation at the level of individual participants and trials. Importantly, activity in the posterior parietal cortex fit the predicted probability of illusion emergence of the Bayesian causal inference model based on each participant's behavioral response profile. Our findings suggest an important role for the posterior parietal cortex in implementing Bayesian causal inference of body ownership and reveal how trial-by-trial variations in neural signatures of multisensory integration relate to the elicitation of the rubber hand illusion.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT How does the brain create a coherent perceptual experience of one's own body based on information from the different senses? We examined how the likelihood of eliciting a classical bodily illusion that depends on vision and touch-the rubber hand illusion-is related to neural activity measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging. We found that trial-by-trial variations in the neural signal in the posterior parietal cortex, a well known center for sensory integration, fitted a statistical function that describes how likely it is that the brain infers that a rubber hand is one's own given the available visual and tactile evidence. Thus, probabilistic analysis of sensory information in the parietal lobe underlies our unitary sense of bodily self.

Keywords: Bayesian causal inference; body perception; functional MRI; multisensory integration; neuroimaging; psychophysics; rubber hand illusion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Body Image
  • Female
  • Hand / physiology
  • Humans
  • Illusions* / physiology
  • Male
  • Ownership
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Proprioception / physiology
  • Touch / physiology
  • Touch Perception* / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology