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
Multifunctional bacterial microswimmer able to deliver cargo and destroy itself
26.04.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Intelligente Systeme
ADP-ribosylation on the right track
26.04.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biologie des Alterns
Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a widely used medical tool for taking pictures of the insides of our body. One way to make MRI scans easier to read is...
At the Hannover Messe 2018, the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM) will show how, in the future, astronauts could produce their own tools or spare parts in zero gravity using 3D printing. This will reduce, weight and transport costs for space missions. Visitors can experience the innovative additive manufacturing process live at the fair.
Powder-based additive manufacturing in zero gravity is the name of the project in which a component is produced by applying metallic powder layers and then...
Physicists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics, which is jointly run by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, have developed a high-power laser system that generates ultrashort pulses of light covering a large share of the mid-infrared spectrum. The researchers envisage a wide range of applications for the technology – in the early diagnosis of cancer, for instance.
Molecules are the building blocks of life. Like all other organisms, we are made of them. They control our biorhythm, and they can also reflect our state of...
University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.
Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.
Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
09.04.2018 | Event News
26.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
26.04.2018 | Life Sciences
26.04.2018 | Medical Engineering