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Body illusions: Body swap

March 27, 2009 | Chris Payatagool

bodyswap.jpgIf leaving your own body behind or having an extra or virtual arm is not enough for you, how about switching bodies with someone else? In late 2008, Ehrsson and his colleague Valeria Petkova described an experimental set-up that creates this freaky illusion.

They got two people to stand facing one another, one wearing a pair of head-mounted video cameras and the other wearing goggles with the images from the cameras projected inside. The pair were then asked to reach out and shake each other's right hand and, as they held their grip, to apply a synchronised series of squeezes.

For the goggle-wearer, this creates an uncanny feeling of occupying the camera-wearer's body: where they would normally see their own torso and their own arm and hand reaching out, they see their partner's. Within a couple of minutes about 70 per cent of participants feel as if their partner's arm - and by extension the body attached to it - is their own. And when the experimenters brandish a knife over the participants' wrists, the goggle-wearers stress response was greatest when it is closer to their partner's wrist (PLoS ONE, vol 3(12), p e3832).

Ehrsson says the illusion is highly convincing: "The first time I experienced the body-swapping illusion with Valeria I almost started screaming because it was such a surreal and striking experience to shake hand with myself using a different body."

[via New Scientist]


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