Cognitive influences on the affective representation of touch and the sight of touch in the human brain.
McCabe C., Rolls ET., Bilderbeck A., McGlone F.
We show that the affective experience of touch and the sight of touch can be modulated by cognition, and investigate in an fMRI study where top-down cognitive modulations of bottom-up somatosensory and visual processing of touch and its affective value occur in the human brain. The cognitive modulation was produced by word labels, 'Rich moisturizing cream' or 'Basic cream', while cream was being applied to the forearm, or was seen being applied to a forearm. The subjective pleasantness and richness were modulated by the word labels, as were the fMRI activations to touch in parietal cortex area 7, the insula and ventral striatum. The cognitive labels influenced the activations to the sight of touch and also the correlations with pleasantness in the pregenual cingulate/orbitofrontal cortex and ventral striatum. Further evidence of how the orbitofrontal cortex is involved in affective aspects of touch was that touch to the forearm [which has C fiber Touch (CT) afferents sensitive to light touch] compared with touch to the glabrous skin of the hand (which does not) revealed activation in the mid-orbitofrontal cortex. This is of interest as previous studies have suggested that the CT system is important in affiliative caress-like touch between individuals.