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Tool-use reshapes the boundaries of body and peripersonal space representations

  • Canzoneri, Elisa1, 2
  • Ubaldi, Silvia1, 3
  • Rastelli, Valentina1
  • Finisguerra, Alessandra4
  • Bassolino, Michela4
  • Serino, Andrea1, 2, 5
  • 1 Polo Scientifico-Didattico di Cesena, Centre for studies and research in cognitive neuroscience (CsrNC), viale Europa 980, Cesena, 47521, Italy , Cesena (Italy)
  • 2 University of Bologna, Department of Psychology, Bologna, Italy , Bologna (Italy)
  • 3 University of Trento, Center for Mind/Brain Sciences (CIMeC), Trento, Italy , Trento (Italy)
  • 4 Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Robotics, Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Via Morego 30, Genova, 16163, Italy , Genova (Italy)
  • 5 École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience, Center for Neuroprosthetics, Route Cantonale, Lausanne, 1015, Switzerland , Lausanne (Switzerland)
Published Article
Experimental Brain Research
Publication Date
May 03, 2013
DOI: 10.1007/s00221-013-3532-2
Springer Nature


Interaction with objects in the environment typically requires integrating information concerning the object location with the position and size of body parts. The former information is coded in a multisensory representation of the space around the body, a representation of peripersonal space (PPS), whereas the latter is enabled by an online, constantly updated, action-orientated multisensory representation of the body (BR). Using a tool to act upon relatively distant objects extends PPS representation. This effect has been interpreted as indicating that tools can be incorporated into BR. However, empirical data showing that tool-use simultaneously affects PPS representation and BR are lacking. To study this issue, we assessed the extent of PPS representation by means of an audio-tactile interaction task and BR by means of a tactile distance perception task and a body-landmarks localisation task, before and after using a 1-m-long tool to reach far objects. Tool-use extended the representation of PPS along the tool axis and concurrently shaped BR; after tool-use, subjects perceived their forearm narrower and longer compared to before tool-use, a shape more similar to the one of the tool. Tool-use was necessary to induce these effects, since a pointing task did not affect PPS and BR. These results show that a brief training with a tool induces plastic changes both to the perceived dimensions of the body part acting upon the tool and to the space around it, suggesting a strong overlap between peripersonal space and body representation.

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