DOI: 10.1152/jn.00145.2023 ISSN:

Aging exerts a limited influence on the perception of self-generated and externally generated touch

Lili Timar, Xavier Job, Jean-Jacques Orban de Xivry, Konstantina Kilteni
  • Physiology
  • General Neuroscience

Touch generated by our voluntary movements is attenuated both at the perceptual and neural level compared to touch of the same intensity delivered to our body by another person or machine. This somatosensory attenuation phenomenon relies on the integration of somatosensory input and predictions about the somatosensory consequences of our actions. Previous studies have reported increased somatosensory attenuation in elderly people, proposing an overreliance on sensorimotor predictions to compensate for age-related declines in somatosensory perception; however, recent results have challenged this direct relationship. In a preregistered study, we used a force-discrimination task to assess whether aging increases somatosensory attenuation and whether this increase is explained by decreased somatosensory precision in elderly individuals. Although 94% of our sample (n = 108, 21-77 years old) perceived their self-generated touches as weaker than externally generated touches of identical intensity (somatosensory attenuation) regardless of age, we did not find a significant increase in somatosensory attenuation in our elderly participants (65-77 years old), but a trend when considering only the oldest subset (69-77 years old). Moreover, we did not observe a significant age-related decline in somatosensory precision or a significant relationship of age with somatosensory attenuation. Together, our results suggest that aging exerts a limited influence on the perception of self-generated and externally generated touch and indicate a less direct relationship between somatosensory precision and attenuation in the elderly individuals than previously proposed.

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