What is it like to be invisible? This question has long fascinated man and has been the central theme of many classic literary works. Recent advances in materials science suggest that invisibility cloaking of the human body may be possible in the not-so-distant future. However, it remains unknown how invisibility affects body perception and embodied cognition. To address these questions, we developed a perceptual illusion of having an entire invisible body. Through a series of experiments, we characterized the multisensory rules that govern the elicitation of the illusion and show that the experience of having an invisible body reduces the social anxiety response to standing in front of an audience. This study provides an experimental model of what it is like to be invisible and shows that this experience affects bodily self-perception and social cognition.
Shift toward prior knowledge confers a perceptual advantage in early psychosis and psychosis-prone healthy individuals
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published almost 2 years ago
Many neuropsychiatric illnesses are associated with psychosis, i.e., hallucinations (perceptions in the absence of causative stimuli) and delusions (irrational, often bizarre beliefs). Current models of brain function view perception as a combination of two distinct sources of information: bottom-up sensory input and top-down influences from prior knowledge. This framework may explain hallucinations and delusions. Here, we characterized the balance between visual bottom-up and top-down processing in people with early psychosis (study 1) and in psychosis-prone, healthy individuals (study 2) to elucidate the mechanisms that might contribute to the emergence of psychotic experiences. Through a specialized mental-health service, we identified unmedicated individuals who experience early psychotic symptoms but fall below the threshold for a categorical diagnosis. We observed that, in early psychosis, there was a shift in information processing favoring prior knowledge over incoming sensory evidence. In the complementary study, we capitalized on subtle variations in perception and belief in the general population that exhibit graded similarity with psychotic experiences (schizotypy). We observed that the degree of psychosis proneness in healthy individuals, and, specifically, the presence of subtle perceptual alterations, is also associated with stronger reliance on prior knowledge. Although, in the current experimental studies, this shift conferred a performance benefit, under most natural viewing situations, it may provoke anomalous perceptual experiences. Overall, we show that early psychosis and psychosis proneness both entail a basic shift in visual information processing, favoring prior knowledge over incoming sensory evidence. The studies provide complementary insights to a mechanism by which psychotic symptoms may emerge.
The sense of body ownership represents a fundamental aspect of our self-consciousness. Influential experimental paradigms, such as the rubber hand illusion (RHI), in which a seen rubber hand is experienced as part of one’s body when one’s own unseen hand receives congruent tactile stimulation, have extensively examined the role of exteroceptive, multisensory integration on body ownership. However, remarkably, despite the more general current interest in the nature and role of interoception in emotion and consciousness, no study has investigated how the illusion may be affected by interoceptive bodily signals, such as affective touch. Here, we recruited 52 healthy, adult participants and we investigated for the first time, whether applying slow velocity, light tactile stimuli, known to elicit interoceptive feelings of pleasantness, would influence the illusion more than faster, emotionally-neutral, tactile stimuli. We also examined whether seeing another person’s hand vs. a rubber hand would reduce the illusion in slow vs. fast stroking conditions, as interoceptive signals are used to represent one’s own body from within and it is unclear how they would be integrated with visual signals from another person’s hand. We found that slow velocity touch was perceived as more pleasant and it produced higher levels of subjective embodiment during the RHI compared with fast touch. Moreover, this effect applied irrespective of whether the seen hand was a rubber or a confederate’s hand. These findings provide support for the idea that affective touch, and more generally interoception, may have a unique contribution to the sense of body ownership, and by implication to our embodied psychological “self.”
Following the amputation of a limb, many amputees report that they can still vividly perceive its presence despite conscious knowledge that it is not physically there. However, our ability to probe the mental representation of this experience is limited by the intractable and often distressing pain associated with amputation. Here, we present a method for eliciting phantom-like experiences in non-amputees using a variation of the rubber hand illusion in which a finger has been removed from the rubber hand. An interpretative phenomenological analysis revealed that the structure of this experience shares a wide range of sensory attributes with subjective reports of phantom limb experience. For example, when the space where the ring finger should have been on the rubber hand was stroked, 93% of participants (i.e., 28/30) reported the vivid presence of a finger that they could not see and a total of 57% (16/28) of participants who felt that the finger was present reported one or more additional sensory qualities such as tingling or numbness (25%; 7/28) and alteration in the perceived size of the finger (50%; 14/28). These experiences indicate the adaptability of body experience and share some characteristics of the way that phantom limbs are described. Participants attributed changes to the shape and size of their “missing” finger to the way in which the experimenter mimed stroking in the area occupied by the missing finger. This alteration of body perception is similar to the phenomenon of telescoping experienced by people with phantom limbs and suggests that our sense of embodiment not only depends on internal body representations but on perceptual information coming from peripersonal space.
We experience the world as a seamless stream of percepts. However, intriguing illusions and recent experiments suggest that the world is not continuously translated into conscious perception. Instead, perception seems to operate in a discrete manner, just like movies appear continuous although they consist of discrete images. To explain how the temporal resolution of human vision can be fast compared to sluggish conscious perception, we propose a novel conceptual framework in which features of objects, such as their color, are quasi-continuously and unconsciously analyzed with high temporal resolution. Like other features, temporal features, such as duration, are coded as quantitative labels. When unconscious processing is “completed,” all features are simultaneously rendered conscious at discrete moments in time, sometimes even hundreds of milliseconds after stimuli were presented.
Illusory ownership of a virtual child body causes overestimation of object sizes and implicit attitude changes
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published about 4 years ago
An illusory sensation of ownership over a surrogate limb or whole body can be induced through specific forms of multisensory stimulation, such as synchronous visuotactile tapping on the hidden real and visible rubber hand in the rubber hand illusion. Such methods have been used to induce ownership over a manikin and a virtual body that substitute the real body, as seen from first-person perspective, through a head-mounted display. However, the perceptual and behavioral consequences of such transformed body ownership have hardly been explored. In Exp. 1, immersive virtual reality was used to embody 30 adults as a 4-y-old child (condition C), and as an adult body scaled to the same height as the child (condition A), experienced from the first-person perspective, and with virtual and real body movements synchronized. The result was a strong body-ownership illusion equally for C and A. Moreover there was an overestimation of the sizes of objects compared with a nonembodied baseline, which was significantly greater for C compared with A. An implicit association test showed that C resulted in significantly faster reaction times for the classification of self with child-like compared with adult-like attributes. Exp. 2 with an additional 16 participants extinguished the ownership illusion by using visuomotor asynchrony, with all else equal. The size-estimation and implicit association test differences between C and A were also extinguished. We conclude that there are perceptual and probably behavioral correlates of body-ownership illusions that occur as a function of the type of body in which embodiment occurs.
Hallucinations occur in both normal and clinical populations. Due to their unpredictability and complexity, the mechanisms underlying hallucinations remain largely untested. Here we show that visual hallucinations can be induced in the normal population by visual flicker, limited to an annulus that constricts content complexity to simple moving grey blobs, allowing objective mechanistic investigation. Hallucination strength peaked at ~11 Hz flicker and was dependent on cortical processing. Hallucinated motion speed increased with flicker rate, when mapped onto visual cortex it was independent of eccentricity, underwent local sensory adaptation and showed the same bistable and mnemonic dynamics as sensory perception. A neural field model with motion selectivity provides a mechanism for both hallucinations and perception. Our results demonstrate that hallucinations can be studied objectively, and they share multiple mechanisms with sensory perception. We anticipate that this assay will be critical to test theories of human consciousness and clinical models of hallucination.
When people see a life-sized virtual body (VB) from first person perspective in virtual reality they are likely to have the perceptual illusion that it is their body. Additionally such virtual embodiment can lead to changes in perception, implicit attitudes and behaviour based on attributes of the VB. To date the changes that have been studied are as a result of being embodied in a body representative of particular social groups (e.g., children and other race). In our experiment participants alternately switched between a VB closely resembling themselves where they described a personal problem, and a VB representing Dr Sigmund Freud, from which they offered themselves counselling. Here we show that when the counsellor resembles Freud participants improve their mood, compared to the counsellor being a self-representation. The improvement was greater when the Freud VB moved synchronously with the participant, compared to asynchronously. Synchronous VB movement was associated with a much stronger illusion of ownership over the Freud body. This suggests that this form of embodied perspective taking can lead to sufficient detachment from habitual ways of thinking about personal problems, so as to improve the outcome, and demonstrates the power of virtual body ownership to effect cognitive changes.
Touch perception on the fingers and hand is essential for fine motor control, contributes to our sense of self, allows for effective communication, and aids in our fundamental perception of the world. Despite increasingly sophisticated mechatronics, prosthetic devices still do not directly convey sensation back to their wearers. We show that implanted peripheral nerve interfaces in two human subjects with upper limb amputation provided stable, natural touch sensation in their hands for more than 1 year. Electrical stimulation using implanted peripheral nerve cuff electrodes that did not penetrate the nerve produced touch perceptions at many locations on the phantom hand with repeatable, stable responses in the two subjects for 16 and 24 months. Patterned stimulation intensity produced a sensation that the subjects described as natural and without “tingling,” or paresthesia. Different patterns produced different types of sensory perception at the same location on the phantom hand. The two subjects reported tactile perceptions they described as natural tapping, constant pressure, light moving touch, and vibration. Changing average stimulation intensity controlled the size of the percept area; changing stimulation frequency controlled sensation strength. Artificial touch sensation improved the subjects' ability to control grasping strength of the prosthesis and enabled them to better manipulate delicate objects. Thus, electrical stimulation through peripheral nerve electrodes produced long-term sensory restoration after limb loss.
Multisensory interactions are the norm in perception, and an abundance of research on the interaction and integration of the senses has demonstrated the importance of combining sensory information from different modalities on our perception of the external world [1-9]. However, although research on mental imagery has revealed a great deal of functional and neuroanatomical overlap between imagery and perception, this line of research has primarily focused on similarities within a particular modality [10-16] and has yet to address whether imagery is capable of leading to multisensory integration. Here, we devised novel versions of classic multisensory paradigms to systematically examine whether imagery is capable of integrating with perceptual stimuli to induce multisensory illusions. We found that imagining an auditory stimulus at the moment two moving objects met promoted an illusory bounce percept, as in the classic cross-bounce illusion; an imagined visual stimulus led to the translocation of sound toward the imagined stimulus, as in the classic ventriloquist illusion; and auditory imagery of speech stimuli led to a promotion of an illusory speech percept in a modified version of the McGurk illusion. Our findings provide support for perceptually based theories of imagery and suggest that neuronal signals produced by imagined stimuli can integrate with signals generated by real stimuli of a different sensory modality to create robust multisensory percepts. These findings advance our understanding of the relationship between imagery and perception and provide new opportunities for investigating how the brain distinguishes between endogenous and exogenous sensory events.