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Segmenting the body into parts: Evidence from biases in tactile perception

De Vignemont, F., Majid, A., Jola, C., & Haggard, P. (2009). Segmenting the body into parts: Evidence from biases in tactile perception. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 62, 500-512. doi:10.1080/17470210802000802.
How do we individuate body parts? Here, we investigated the effect of body segmentation between hand and arm in tactile and visual perception. In a first experiment, we showed that two tactile stimuli felt farther away when they were applied across the wrist than when they were applied within a single body part (palm or forearm), indicating a “category boundary effect”. In the following experiments, we excluded two hypotheses, which attributed tactile segmentation to other, nontactile factors. In Experiment 2, we showed that the boundary effect does not arise from motor cues. The effect was reduced during a motor task involving flexion and extension movements of the wrist joint. Action brings body parts together into functional units, instead of pulling them apart. In Experiments 3 and 4, we showed that the effect does not arise from perceptual cues of visual discontinuities. We did not find any segmentation effect for the visual percept of the body in Experiment 3, nor for a neutral shape in Experiment 4. We suggest that the mental representation of the body is structured in categorical body parts delineated by joints, and that this categorical representation modulates tactile spatial perception.
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