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I am interested in the perceptual processes that guide movement. My experiments are all behavioural by nature, typically the participant is provided with a stimulus (such as a touch) and reports on what they feel through various methods (such as pointing). I conduct experiments on touch localization, body representations, and the sense of heaviness. I am interested in contributing to research on other proprioceptive topics, in particular the senses of body ownership and agency. In the future I would like to investigate how our perceptual experience remains stable even with changes to the size and shape of our body and the dynamics of our surrounds.
DAVID KENNEDY Research Assistant
SIOBHAN DONGÉS Postdoctoral Fellow
MATTHEW JONES PhD student
DR JESSICA D’AMICO Research Officer
A reliable mechanism to predict the heaviness of an object is important for manipulating an object under environmental uncertainty. Recently, Cashaback et al. (Cashaback JGA, McGregor HR, Pun HCH, Buckingham G, Gribble PL. J Neurophysiol 117: 260-274, 2017) showed that for object lifting the sensorimotor system uses a strategy that minimizes prediction error when the object's weight is uncertain. Previous research demonstrates that visually guided reaching is similarly optimized. Although this suggests a unified strategy of the sensorimotor system for object manipulation, the selected strategy appears to be task dependent and subject to change in response to the degree of environmental uncertainty.
We investigated the influence of motion context on tactile localization, using a paradigm similar to the cutaneous rabbit or sensory saltation (Geldard FA, Sherrick CE. Science 178: 178-179, 1972). In one of its forms, the rabbit stimulus consists of a tap in one location quickly followed by another tap elsewhere, creating the illusion that the two taps are near each other. Instead of taps, we used position of a halted brush and instead of distance judgment, localization responses. The brush moved across the skin of the left forearm, creating a clear motion signal before and after a rabbitlike leap of 10 cm (at 100 cm/s). Three before-and-after velocities (7.5, 15, or 30 cm/s) were used. Participants (n = 13) pointed with their right arm at the felt location of the brush when it halted either 1 cm before or after the leap. These stops were 12 cm apart, but distances computed from localization responses were only 5.4, 6.5, and 7.5 cm for the three velocities, respectively (F[2,11] = 15.19, P = 0.001). Thus the leap resulted in compressive position shift, as described previously for sensory saltation, but modulated by motion velocity before the leap: the slower the motion, the greater the shift opposite to motion direction. No gap in stimulation was perceived. We propose that velocity extrapolation causes the position shift: extrapolated motion does not have enough time to bridge the real spatial gap and thus assigns a closer location to the skin on the opposite side of the gap.
The present-day view of the neural basis for the senses of muscle force and heaviness is that they are generated centrally, within the brain, from copies of motor commands. A corollary of the motor discharge generates a sense of effort which underlies these sensations. In recent experiments on force and heaviness sensations using thumb flexor muscles, a rather different explanation has been invoked: Subjects were proposed to rely predominantly on inputs of a peripheral origin, in particular, the signals of muscle spindles. The present experiments have been carried out at the elbow joint to determine whether these new ideas apply more widely. The effects of fatigue of elbow flexor muscles have been studied in force and heaviness matching tasks using three exercise regimes, a sustained maximum voluntary contraction (MVC), a maintained contraction of 35 % MVC, and a maintained contraction of 35 % MVC combined with muscle vibration at 80 Hz. In force-matching experiments, subjects were required to contract both arms and while the reference arm generated the target force under visual control, it was matched by the indicator arm without visual feedback. During the 100 % MVC exercise, force in the exercising reference arm fell rapidly to almost a half of its original value over 90 s while force in the indicator did not fall, leading to a significant overestimation of the reference force. During the 35 % MVC exercise, subjects also overestimated the reference force and this persisted at 5 and 10 min after the exercise. When 35 % MVC was combined with vibration, the amount by which the indicator arm overestimated the reference force was significantly reduced. In heaviness matching experiments, subjects could move their arms through a small range. The reference arm was loaded with a weight, and weights were added or removed from the indicator until heaviness felt the same in the two arms. There was a small, but significant fall in the matching weight used after 100 % MVC exercise, that is, the weight held by the fatigued arm felt lighter. The 35 % exercise did not alter heaviness sensation while 35 % MVC exercise with vibration led to a significant reduction in perceived heaviness. To conclude, while the results of these experiments on elbow flexors are not as clear cut as for thumb flexors, the central effort hypothesis falls short, in a number of respects in explaining the data which are able to be interpreted in terms of a peripheral afferent contribution to the senses of force and heaviness.