Thursday, August 23, 2007

Inducing Out of Body Experiences on Demand

Through the goggles, the volunteer is viewing the back of his body, as seen from behind by the camera. He is also watching a plastic rod moving toward a location just below the camera while his real chest is simultaneously touched in the corresponding spot. (Image courtesy of Henrik Ehrsson/Science)

From physorg:

Using virtual reality goggles to mix up the sensory signals reaching the brain, scientists have induced out-of-body-like experiences in healthy people, suggesting a scientific explanation for a phenomenon often thought to be a figment of the imagination.
What they did:

Both Ehrsson and another research team, led by Olaf Blanke of the Ecole Polytechique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the University Hospital in Geneva, Switzerland, used video cameras and virtual reality goggles to show volunteers images of their own bodies from the perspective of someone behind them...
Ehrsson had the volunteers watch a plastic rod moving toward a location just below the cameras while their real chests were simultaneously touched in the corresponding spot. Questionnaire responses afterwards indicated that the volunteers felt they were located back where the cameras were placed, watching a dummy or a body that belonged to someone else.
Ehrsson also had the volunteers watch a hammer swing down to a point below the camera, as though it were going to “hurt” an unseen portion of the virtual body. Measurements of skin conductance, which reflects emotional responses such as fear, indicated that the volunteers sensed their “selves” had left their physical bodies and moved to the virtual bodies.
And what did they conclude?

“multisensory conflict” is a key mechanism underlying out-of-body experiences...
“This experiment suggests that the first-person visual perspective is critically important for the in-body experience. In other words, we feel that our self is located where the eyes are,” Ehrsson said.
Very cool! This brings us another step closer to creating better virtual reality, where you will someday feel like you are somewhere your physical body is not.

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