Decoding Sounds Depicting Hand–Object Interactions in Primary Somatosensory Cortex.

Kerri M. Bailey, Bruno L Giordano, Amanda L Kaas, and Fraser W Smith.

2022, Cerebral Cortex, bhac296  — @HAL

Neurons, even in the earliest sensory regions of cortex, are subject to a great deal of contextual influences from both within and across modality connections. Recent work has shown that primary sensory areas can respond to and, in some cases, discriminate stimuli that are not of their target modality: for example, primary somatosensory cortex (SI) discriminates visual images of graspable objects. In the present work, we investigated whether SI would discriminate sounds depicting hand–object interactions (e.g. bouncing a ball). In a rapid event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment, participants listened attentively to sounds from 3 categories: hand–object interactions, and control categories of pure tones and animal vocalizations, while performing a one-back repetition detection task. Multivoxel pattern analysis revealed significant decoding of hand–object interaction sounds within SI, but not for either control category. Crucially, in the hand-sensitive voxels defined from an independent tactile localizer, decoding accuracies were significantly higher for hand–object interactions compared to pure tones in left SI. Our findings indicate that simply hearing sounds depicting familiar hand–object interactions elicit different patterns of activity in SI, despite the complete absence of tactile stimulation. These results highlight the rich contextual information that can be transmitted across sensory modalities even to primary sensory areas.

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