Theories of embodied cognition propose that perception is shaped by sensory stimuli and by the actions of the organism. Following sensorimotor contingency theory, the mastery of lawful relations between own behavior and resulting changes in sensory signals, called sensorimotor contingencies, is constitutive of conscious perception. Sensorimotor contingency theory predicts that, after training, knowledge relating to new sensorimotor contingencies develops, leading to changes in the activation of sensorimotor systems, and concomitant changes in perception. In the present study, we spell out this hypothesis in detail and investigate whether it is possible to learn new sensorimotor contingencies by sensory augmentation. Specifically, we designed an fMRI compatible sensory augmentation device, the feelSpace belt, which gives orientation information about the direction of magnetic north via vibrotactile stimulation on the waist of participants. In a longitudinal study, participants trained with this belt for seven weeks in natural environment. Our EEG results indicate that training with the belt leads to changes in sleep architecture early in the training phase, compatible with the consolidation of procedural learning as well as increased sensorimotor processing and motor programming. The fMRI results suggest that training entails activity in sensory as well as higher motor centers and brain areas known to be involved in navigation. These neural changes are accompanied with changes in how space and the belt signal are perceived, as well as with increased trust in navigational ability. Thus, our data on physiological processes and subjective experiences are compatible with the hypothesis that new sensorimotor contingencies can be acquired using sensory augmentation.
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© 2016 König et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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