An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: Will it soon be possible to simulate the feeling of a spirit not attached to any particular physical form using virtual or augmented reality? If so, a good place to start would be to figure out the minimal amount of body we need to feel a sense of self, especially in digital environments where more and more people may find themselves for work or play. It might be as little as a pair of hands and feet, report Dr. Michiteru Kitazaki and a Ph.D. student, Ryota Kondo. In a paper published Tuesday in Scientific Reports, they showed that animating virtual hands and feet alone is enough to make people feel their sense of body drift toward an invisible avatar (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). Their work fits into a corpus of research on illusory body ownership, which has challenged understandings of perception and contributed to therapies like treating pain for amputees who experience phantom limb.
Using an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and a motion sensor, Dr. Kitazaki's team performed a series of experiments in which volunteers watched disembodied hands and feet move two meters in front of them in a virtual room. In one experiment, when the hands and feet mirrored the participants' own movements, people reported feeling as if the space between the appendages were their own bodies. In another experiment, the scientists induced illusory ownership of an invisible body, then blacked out the headset display, effectively blindfolding the subjects. The researchers then pulled them a random distance back and asked them to return to their original position, still virtually blindfolded. Consistently, the participants overshot their starting point, suggesting that their sense of body had drifted or "projected" forward, toward the transparent avatar.
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