Tool-use: capturing multisensory spatial attention or extending multisensory peripersonal space?
Holmes NP., Sanabria D., Calvert GA., Spence C.
The active and skilful use of tools has been claimed to lead to the "extension" of the visual receptive fields of single neurons representing peripersonal space--the visual space immediately surrounding one's body parts. While this hypothesis provides an attractive and potentially powerful explanation for one neural basis of tool-use behaviours in human and nonhuman primates, a number of competing hypotheses for the reported behavioural effects of tool-use have not yet been subjected to empirical test. Here, we report five behavioural experiments in healthy human participants (n=120) involving the effects of tool-use on visual-tactile interactions in peripersonal space. Specifically, we address the possibility that the use of only a single tool, which is typical of many neuropsychological studies of tool-use, induces a spatial allocation of attention towards the side where the tool is held. Participants' tactile discrimination responses were more strongly affected by visual stimuli presented on the right side when they held a single tool on the right, compared to visual stimuli presented on the left. When [corrected] two tools were held, one in each hand, this spatial effect disappeared. Our results are incompatible with the hypothesis that tool-use extends peripersonal space, and suggest instead that the use and/or manipulation of [corrected] tools results in an automatic multisensory shift of spatial attention to the side of space where the tip of the tool is actively held. These results have implications for many of the cognitive neuroscientific studies of tool-use published to date.