Scientists at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet have now come up with a technique that recreates this sensation in fully conscious healthy volunteers. They hope that this technique will enable them to study the relationship between the body and the 'self' in the laboratory environment.
“The idea for the study came to me several years ago”, says Dr Henrik Ehrsson, research leader in the Department of Clinical Neuroscience. “I wondered what would happen if you moved a person’s eyes to somewhere else in the room. It has been found that the visual perspective is crucial in determining how the ego is experienced.”
The experiments involve the scientists connecting two video cameras placed side by side - like robot eyes - to a display on the volunteer's head, one camera for each eye. The cameras are positioned behind the volunteers and aimed at them. The volunteers then see themselves from outside, as if they were someone else looking at them.
But to be able to induce an out-of-body experience it is also necessary for the volunteers to sense their self outside their physical body. The scientist can induce such a sensation by standing in front of the cameras and poking a point just below them, that is to say the chest of the “phantom body” – the illusory body the volunteers perceive outside their physical body – while the actual chest is touched without the volunteers seeing that this is being done.
“The brain then responds to the hand that touches the illusory body, whereupon the volunteer has a powerful experience of being several metres outside their actual body”, says Dr Ehrsson. “The self has thus moved two metres in space and left the actual body, which instead feels like an empty shell, a doll.”
To prove the illusion scientifically, Dr Ehrsson hit the phantom body of the twelve volunteers with a hammer, and measured and degree of skin sweating in response to the provocation. It was found that the volunteers exhibited the same physiological stress response as when someone's real body is threatened, but only during the periods when the volunteers were actually experiencing the out-of-body illusion.
The new tool in the laboratory environment means that it is possible for the first time to undertake scientific research on what we call the self, both fundamental research and applied research, for example in computer science.
“In the future it may be possible not just to control a person in a virtual environment but to become the virtual person, that is to say one's self will be able to move to virtual persons,” says Dr Ehrsson.
Karolinska Institutet is one of the leading medical universities in Europe. Through research, education and information, Karolinska Institutet contributes to improving human health. Each year, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet awards the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Katarina Sternudd | alfa
Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1
27.10.2016 | NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute
'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape
27.10.2016 | International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)
Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.
This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences
27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
27.10.2016 | Life Sciences