The rubber-hand illusion has been a popular perception experiment for more than a decade. In it, a research subject's real hand is hidden from view while a fake rubber hand is substituted in plain sight. Both hands are simultaneously stroked with a brush until the person's mind has come to perceive the fake hand as part of their body. In some people—especially those prone to a poorly developed body schema—the real hand then starts to get ignored by the brain, marked by a discernable temperature drop. The concept has also helped some amputees alleviate pain in phantom limbs.
But the false-hand illusion has been based on the notion that the brain is maintaining a normal, symmetrical body plan: two arms, two hands. A strange new study throws that model out the window—or at least adds on a new twist. Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, have shown these healthy adults could easily be tricked into feeling as if they had three arms.
As a game-player, I've been particularly fascinated by that "rubber-hand illusion." What if you could play a computer game and feel like you were really there, feel like your avatar was really your own body?
But given this research, maybe it wouldn't even have to be a human body. Maybe you could play a three-armed alien and still feel like it was real. How cool would that be?
OK, so we have a ways to go before we can make that work. If we can do it at all, I'll probably never experience it myself. But it's still neat. And considering how dispiriting the real world seems to be these days, maybe at least our fantasy worlds will continue to improve.
Hmm,... I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing, but I guess I'll take what I can get.