Touch automatically upregulates motor readiness in humans.
van Ede F., Winner T., Maris E.
Goal-directed movements require effective integration of tactile input with ongoing movement. Here we investigated the functional consequences of such integration in healthy humans by probing the influence of spatially congruent and incongruent tactile stimuli on performance in a speeded button-press task. In addition, using magnetoencephalography (MEG), we evaluated whether the modulation of somato-motor beta (13-30 Hz) oscillations following tactile input-which has been shown to propagate to motor areas-could underlie this influence. We demonstrate that congruent tactile stimuli, despite being irrelevant to the motor task, lead to both faster and more accurate responses. We further show that this automatic upregulation of lateralized motor readiness 1) is specific to tactile input, 2) is independent of the spatial separation of the hands in peripersonal space, and 3) lasts (and remains facilitatory) for up to a second after the tactile input. This pattern of behavioral results is in line with recent physiological investigations showing that somatosensory and motor areas directly influence each other's processing capacity through joint changes in brain state. At the same time, however, the tactile-induced modulation of beta oscillations (one particular index of such a somato-motor state change) could not account for the observed movement facilitation, because it had a different time course.