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Keywords:

  • hand;
  • observation;
  • self;
  • transcranial magnetic stimulation

Abstract

Involvement of fronto-parietal structures within the right hemisphere in bodily self recognition has gained convergent support from behavioural, neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies. Increases in corticospinal excitability via transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) also testify to right hemisphere self-related processing. However, evidence for self-dependent modulations of motor excitability is limited to the processing of face-related information that, by definition, conveys someone’s identity. Here we tested the hypothesis that vision of one’s own hand, as compared with vision of somebody else’s hand, would also engage specific self-hand processing in the right hemisphere. Healthy participants were submitted to a classic TMS paradigm to assess changes in corticospinal excitability of the right (Experiment 1) and left (Experiment 2) motor cortex, while viewing pictures of a (contralateral) still hand, which could either be their own (Self) or not (Other). As a control for body selectivity, subjects were also presented with pictures of a hand-related, but non-corporeal object, i.e. a mobile phone, which could similarly be their own or not. Results showed a selective right hemisphere increase in corticospinal excitability with self-hand and self-phone stimuli with respect to Other stimuli. Such a Self vs. Other modulation of primary motor cortex appeared at 600 ms and was maintained at 900 ms, but was not present at earlier timings (100 and 300 ms) and was completely absent following stimulation of the left hemisphere. A similar pattern observed for self-hand and self-phone stimuli suggests that owned hands and objects may undergo similar self-processing, possibly via a different cortical network from that responsible for self-face processing.