Dynamic Invisible Body

Illusory body ownership [1, 2, 3] can be induced to a virtual body by visual-tactile contingent stimulation or visual-motor congruent actions. Virtual Reality systems have often been used for induction of visual-motor-contingent body ownership. When visual body movements are presented using a head-mounted display (HMD) and are synchronized with a participant's actual body movements, he/she feels the virtual body as his/her own body [4, 5]. The methods to cause illusory body ownership can be categorized into passive contingent visual-tactile stimulation and active synchronicity of visual body stimuli and motor actions. The active method induces a sense of agency in addition to body ownership and generally induces stronger body ownership than the passive method [6].
Lenggenhager et al. (2007) [7] presented a virtual body in front of the participant, and visually synchronized tactile sensation to his/her back to induce the full-body ownership illusion. The illusory body ownership of the virtual body caused the participant's proprioceptive self-localization to drift toward the virtual body. The proprioceptive drift of own body-part location was originally reported in the Rubber-Hand-Illusion studies. Thus, the drift of proprioceptive self-body or body-part location has been considered as one of the behavioral measurements of illusory body ownership. However, it is reported that proprioceptive drift depends on the duration of visual-tactile sensations; the drift occurs with synchronous, asynchronous, or no tactile stimulation using short and frequent stimulations, and is prevented only by continuous exposure to asynchronous stimulation [8]. Thus, the feeling of ownership cannot be measured by the proprioceptive drift alone.
Recently, it has been reported that body ownership can be induced to an empty space by presenting visual-tactile stimuli [9, 10, 11]. An entire invisible body ownership is induced when participants observe a paintbrush moving in an empty space and by defining the contours of an invisible body through an HMD from a first-person perspective while receiving simultaneous touches on the corresponding parts of their real body. The illusory ownership of an entire invisible body reduces autonomic and subjective social anxiety responses caused by standing in front of an audience.
The purpose of our study was to test whether the illusory ownership of an invisible body could be induced by the active method of visual-motor synchronicity, and if the illusory invisible body could be experienced in front of the observer similar to the full-body ownership illusion.In Experiment 1, we tested whether illusory body ownership can be induced by presenting only visual gloves and socks in synchrony and consistent with the observer's own movements. The gloves and socks were presented in front of and facing away from the observers, in third-person perspective. We compared the synchronous condition, i.e. the virtual gloves and socks moved synchronously with the observer's action, with the asynchronous condition, i.e. the gloves and socks moved independently of the observer's action. In Experiment 2, we compared the invisible condition, i.e. where only gloves and socks were presented, with the visible body condition so that a whole-body avatar was presented. The whole-body avatar was also presented in front of and facing away from the observers. In these experiments, after participants moved their own body by observing the avatar stimuli for 5 min, a threat stimulus appeared suddenly. Then, participants answered a questionnaire. Finally, in Experiment 3, we tested whether self-localization drift could occur with illusory body ownership induced by only visual gloves and socks. When illusory body ownership occurs with the virtual invisible body in front of the participant, self-location will drift toward the virtual invisible body similar to the full-body ownership illusion. All experiments were conducted in within-group designs where all subjects (20, 20, and 10 naïve participants for Experiment 1, 2, and 3, respectively) performed all conditions (synchronous vs asynchronous conditions in Experiment 1 and 3, and visible and invisible bodies in Experiment 2).
We found that in the body ownership induced by only socks and gloves, observers perceived a complete body between socks and gloves, and the proprioceptive self-localization drift toward the invisible body was similar to the one observed in the full-body ownership illusion.In both Experiments 1 and 2, the feelings of threat to the invisible body and the visible body were not clear, even in the synchronous condition. This may have been caused by the weak illusory body ownership. In the experiments, the exposure time for the visual-motor synchronicity was 5 min. Prolonged exposure may enhance illusory body ownership and feelings toward the threat. Furthermore, one may argue that the low score of the threat is reasonable because the illusory owned body is invisible and the space where the knife cuts is empty. In Experiment 2, however, we did not find any difference between the invisible body and the visible body. The participants perceived the invisible body as being interpolated between gloves and socks, similar to the illusory contour or the amodal completion phenomena. Thus, invisibility cannot account for the low feelings toward the threat. In a further study, as another measure of the startle response, physiological measures such as skin conductance response or event-related cortical potentials should be employed to clarify these findings.
We showed that visual hands and feet are enough to induce illusory body ownership. However, it is unclear whether hands and feet are a minimal or necessary condition for body ownership. This is a limitation of our study and should be investigated in a future study to understand the cognitive mechanism of body ownership.
Relevant to the present study, we may be able to identify the minimal or necessary condition of the Full-Body Illusion or the border between the Full-Body Illusion and the body-part ownership illusion by visual-motor synchronicity. Neural mechanisms of body-part ownership and full-body ownership seem different. We presented only the gloves (hands) and socks (feet) as body parts, but obtained the Full-body Illusion. If we can identify the border between the Full-Body Illusion and the body-part ownership illusion and manipulate it without varying the visual stimuli by using a simple experimental parameter, the experimental paradigm would contribute to clarify the difference in neural mechanisms by combining it with a brain imaging technique in future research.


Kondo,R., Sugimoto, M., Minamizawa, K., Hoshi, T., Inami, M., and Kitazaki, M. (2018). Illusory body ownership of an invisible body interpolated between virtual hands and feet via visual-motor synchronicity, Scientific Reports, 8:7541 DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-25951-2


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