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Virtual Neglect? Virtual Body Vs Real Body Experiment

Por: | 01 de agosto de 2013

By Patrícia Lainz, University of Barcelona Press

Research published on Royal Society Journal Interface proves the relationship between body ownership and thermal sensitivity. The paper is signed by the following researchers from the Faculty of Psychology of the UB: Joan Llobera, PhD Student at the Experimental Virtual Environments Lab for Neuroscience and Technology (Event LAB), Maria V. Sanchez-Vives,ICREA researcher and leader of IDIBAPS team Systems neuroscience, and Mel Slater, both directors of Event LAB.

The article shows that it is possible to substitute a person’s real body for a virtual one that can be only seen in virtual reality. Participants in the study entered into virtual reality through a head-mounted display. When they looked down towards where their real body should be, they saw a virtual body. If they looked on a virtual mirror, they saw their virtual body reflected. Moreover, when they moved their hands, they saw the virtual hand move the same.

Researchers’ main interest was to analyse whether virtual body ownership meant a neglect of real body. Previous studies showed that, in the phenomenon so-called ‘rubber hand illusion’, people thought that rubber hands were their own hands, and a cooling of real hand temperature occurred then. Consequently, scientists affirmed that real hand is ‘disowned’ or neglected by the brain, in favour for the rubber hand.

Instead of measuring skin temperature, researchers measured participants’ sensitivity to small variations of hand temperature. Their hypothesis was that if they ‘disowned’ or neglected their real body, due to virtual body ownership, they would become less sensitive to small temperature changes on their real hands. However, results proved that they became less sensitive to temperature changes only when they did not have the illusion of virtual body ownership. Therefore, a correlation between illusion’s strength and temperature change sensitivity was observed. In other words, the greater ownership illusion was, the less probable a decrease in temperature variation sensitivity.

The research concludes that the virtual body and the real one become unified into one perception. The real body provides information about body ownership and tactile sensations, whereas virtual body gives visual information about the body; the brain then infers a single body representation from both perceptions. The analysis of body ownership changes using virtual reality is essential to understand how the brain represents the body. The research increases the knowledge in this area and provides an objective indicator of body ownership transfer that finally contributes to the different forms of neuropsychological rehabilitation known so far.


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