Recent studies have revealed that hardness perception is determined by visual information along with the haptic input. This study investigated the cortical regions involved in hardness perception modulated by visual information using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and multivoxel pattern analysis (MVPA). Twenty-two healthy participants were enrolled. They were required to place their left and right hands at the front and back, respectively, of a mirror attached to a platform placed above them while lying in a magnetic resonance scanner. In conditions SFT, MED, and HRD, one of three polyurethane foam pads of varying hardness (soft, medium, and hard, respectively) was presented to the left hand in a given trial, while only the medium pad was presented to the right hand in all trials. MED was defined as the control condition, because the visual and haptic information was congruent. During the scan, the participants were required to push the pad with the both hands while observing the reflection of the left hand and estimate the hardness of the pad perceived by the right (hidden) hand based on magnitude estimation. Behavioral results showed that the perceived hardness was significantly biased toward softer or harder in >73% of the trials in conditions SFT and HRD; we designated these trials as visually modulated (SFTvm and HRDvm, respectively). The accuracy map was calculated individually for each of the pair-wise comparisons of (SFTvm vs. MED), (HRDvm vs. MED), and (SFTvm vs. HRDvm) by a searchlight MVPA, and the cortical regions encoding the perceived hardness with visual modulation were identified by conjunction of the three accuracy maps in group analysis. The cluster was observed in the right sensory motor cortex, left anterior intraparietal sulcus (aIPS), bilateral parietal operculum (PO), and occipito-temporal cortex (OTC). Together with previous findings on such cortical regions, we conclude that the visual information of finger movements processed in the OTC may be integrated with haptic input in the left aIPS, and the subjective hardness perceived by the right hand with visual modulation may be processed in the cortical network between the left PO and aIPS.
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