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Volume 11 (2011), Pages 199-213
Review Article

Sustained Spatial Attention in Touch: Modality-Specific and Multimodal Mechanisms

1Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK
2Psychology Department, City University London, UK

Received 29 May 2010; Revised 5 January 2011; Accepted 5 January 2011

Academic Editor: Cathy Price

Copyright © 2011 Chiara F. Sambo and Bettina Forster.


Sustained attention to a body location results in enhanced processing of tactile stimuli presented at that location compared to another unattended location. In this paper, we review studies investigating the neural correlates of sustained spatial attention in touch. These studies consistently show that activity within modality-specific somatosensory areas (SI and SII) is modulated by sustained tactile-spatial attention. Recent evidence suggests that these somatosensory areas may be recruited as part of a larger cortical network,also including higher-level multimodal regions involved in spatial selection across modalities. We discuss, in turn, the following multimodal effects in sustained tactile-spatial attention tasks. First, cross-modal attentional links between touch and vision, reflected in enhanced processing of task-irrelevant visual stimuli at tactuallyattended locations, are mediated by common (multimodal) representations of external space. Second, vision of the body modulates activity underlying sustained tactile-spatial attention, facilitating attentional modulation of tactile processing in between-hand (when hands are sufficiently far apart) and impairing attentional modulation in within-hand selection tasks. Finally, body posture influences mechanisms of sustained tactile-spatial attention, relying, at least partly, on remapping of tactile stimuli in external, visuallydefined, spatial coordinates. Taken together, the findings reviewed in this paper indicate that sustained spatial attention in touch is subserved by both modality-specific and multimodal mechanisms. The interplay between these mechanisms allows flexible and efficient spatial selection within and across sensory modalities.