Heart in your hand? Neuroscientists discover a new illusion of consciousness

September 2, 2013 by Jacqui Bealing, University of Sussex

The sight of a virtual-reality hand pulsing in time with your heart beat is enough to convince your brain that it's part of your body, according to a new study published this week from the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex.

Neuroscientists and have long been fascinated by the 'rubber hand illusion', a clever trick whereby a fake hand is perceived as part of one's body if it is stroked simultaneously with one's real hand. This illusion shows that the brain constructs the experience of 'having a body' and that this experience depends on integration of visual and tactile (touch) .

Until now, little has been known about how the experience of 'body ownership' depends on perception of the body's internal processes, like the . Yet perception of the body "from within" is thought to be crucial for emotion and consciousness.

A new study by Dr. Keisuke Suzuki, Professor Anil Seth, and colleagues at the Sackler Centre – published in the journal Neuropsychologia - now shows that external visualization of one's heartbeat can influence what we experience as our own body.

The team used a unique combination of heartbeat monitoring and augmented reality to implement a 'cardio-visual' version of the rubber hand illusion. Participants wore a '' through which they saw a virtual-reality version of their own hand projected in front of them, while their real hand remained hidden out of view. The virtual hand was made to pulse to red and back either in-time or out-of-time with their heartbeat.

The researchers found that the virtual hand was more likely to be experienced as part of a person's body when the 'cardio-visual' feedback was aligned with the actual heartbeat, than when it was misaligned. This shows that the brain integrates its perception of the body from the outside with its perception from the inside, in determining what is experienced as its body.

Professor Seth says; "The findings tie in with our research at the Sackler Centre showing that many other perceptual and cognitive processes can be affected by the beating of the heart in ways that have important implications for clinical conditions such as anxiety and disorders of body image."

The research also supports a new theory of self and emotion being developed by Professors Seth and Hugo Critchley (Sackler Centre directors), according to which the brain is actively and continuously trying to predict its own physiological and physical states.

The use of new technologies to address old questions highlights the innovative approach to consciousness science adopted by Sackler Centre researchers, and future projects will use similar augmented reality methods to further push the boundaries of how we experience ourselves and the world around us.

The paper is titled 'Multisensory integration across exteroceptive and interoceptive domains modulates self-experience in the illusion.'

Explore further: Heartbeats link mind and body together

More information: www.sciencedirect.com/science/ … ii/S0028393213002789

Related Stories

Heartbeats link mind and body together

August 15, 2013
While we're not necessarily aware of our heartbeat, this inner rhythm actually contributes to how we experience the body, and what belongs to it, according to research recently conducted at EPFL. A study to be published in ...

Visualized heartbeat can trigger 'out-of-body experience'

August 14, 2013
A visual projection of human heartbeats can be used to generate an "out-of-body experience," according to new research to be published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The ...

Study shows expectation important component of rubber-hand illusion

June 26, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers in Italy has found that expectation is an important component of the famous rubber-hand illusion. In their paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the team ...

Extending the self: Some cold truths on body ownership

May 31, 2013
"Who are you?" Some might ponder this question philosophically, while others will answer straightforwardly: "I am my body and my personality". But the boundaries of "self" are not as straightforward as we might think.

Body representation differs in children and adults, study finds

April 4, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Children's sense of having and owning a body differs from that of adults, indicating that our sense of physical self develops over time, according to a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal ...

Study finds 'owning' a darker skin can positively impact racial bias

May 14, 2013
Scientists from Royal Holloway University have found that when white Caucasians are under the illusion that they have a dark skin, their racial bias changes in a positive way.

Recommended for you

Immune cell pruning of dopamine receptors may modulate behavioral changes in adolescence

September 25, 2018
A study by MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) researchers finds that the immune cells of the brain called microglia play a crucial role in brain development during adolescence, but that role is different in males and ...

Scientists reverse a sensory impairment in mice with autism

September 25, 2018
Using a genetic technique that allows certain neurons in the brain to be switched on or off, UCLA scientists reversed a sensory impairment in mice with symptoms of autism, enabling them to learn a sensory task as quickly ...

Why it doesn't get dark when you blink

September 25, 2018
People blink every five seconds. During this brief moment, no light falls on the retina, yet people continue to observe a stable picture of the environment with no intervals of darkness. Caspar Schwiedrzik and Sandrin Sudmann, ...

Researchers identify new cause of brain bleeds

September 25, 2018
A team of researchers including UCI project scientist Rachita Sumbria, Ph.D. and UCI neurologist Mark J. Fisher, MD have provided, for the first time, evidence that blood deposits in the brain may not require a blood vessel ...

Lung inflammation from childhood asthma linked with later anxiety

September 25, 2018
Persistent lung inflammation may be one possible explanation for why having asthma during childhood increases your risk for developing anxiety later in life, according to Penn State researchers.

Even mild physical activity immediately improves memory function, study finds

September 24, 2018
People who include a little yoga or tai chi in their day may be more likely to remember where they put their keys. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine and Japan's University of Tsukuba found that even very ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.