Ready for a little experiment? Wiggle your toes. But close your eyes first. Go ahead. Could you tell which toe was which? Researchers at Oxford University have found that many people cannot tell their toes apart without looking at them, and the research suggests a link between this misperception of toes (agnosia) and brain damage. It’s very interesting research with many possibilities for neuroscience; as Sherlock Holmes might say, the game’s afoot. [Okay, I promise, no more bad puns.]
According to a report in Perception, the researchers asked volunteers (presumably not very ticklish types) to close their eyes while the testers prodded their fingers and toes. People generally found it harder to distinguish between their toes than it was to tell their fingers apart, and in cases where toes were misidentified, researchers noticed a pattern. The second toe was mistaken for the third, and the third for the fourth. When the non-dominant foot was tested (i.e. the left foot of a right-handed person, and vice-versa) there were more cases of agnosia. Lead researcher Nela Cicmil suggests that the findings indicate that “rather than sensing each toe separately, the brain just sees five blocks. The gaps between the actual toes do not correspond to the boundaries of those blocks.” This simple toe-test could be applied by doctors who suspect brain injury, and may be useful in studying other instances of body misperception. All of which is fascinating, but of absolutely no use to the little piggy that went wee wee wee all the way home.