Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
When a single tactile stimulus is presented together with two tones, participants often report perceiving two touches. It is a matter of debate whether this cross-modal effect of audition on touch reflects the interplay between modalities at early perceptual or at later processing stages, and which brain processes determine what in the end is consciously perceived. Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded while rare single tactile stimuli accompanied by two tones (1T2A) were presented among frequent tactile double stimuli accompanied by two tones (2T2A). Although participants were instructed to ignore the tones and to respond to single tactile stimuli only, they often failed to respond to 1T2A stimuli (“illusory double touches,” 1T2A(i)). ERPs to “illusory double touches” versus “real double touches” (2T2A) differed 50 msec after the (missing) second touch. This suggests that at an early sensory stage, illusory and real touches are processed differently. On the other hand, although similar stimuli elicited a tactile mismatch negativity (MMN) between 100 and 200 msec in a unisensory tactile experiment, no MMN was observed for the 1T2A(i) stimuli in the multisensory experiment. “Tactile awareness” was associated with a negativity at 250 msec, which was enhanced in response to correctly identified deviants as compared to physically identical deviants that elicited an illusion. Thus, auditory stimuli seem to alter neural mechanisms associated with automatic tactile deviant detection. The present findings contribute to the debate of which processing step in the brain determines what is consciously perceived.