Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2013 Jul 26. [Epub ahead of print]

Susceptibility to the rubber hand illusion does not tell the whole body-awareness story

The rubber hand illusion (RHI) is an enigmatic illusion that creates a feeling of owning an artificial limb. Enthusiasts of this paradigm assert that it operationalizes bodily self-awareness, but there are reasons to doubt such a clear link. Because little is known about other functional contributions to the RHI, including effects of context-dependent visual processing and cognitive control or the ability to resolve intermodal conflict, we carried out two complementary experiments. In the first, we examined the relationships between the RHI and (1) body awareness, as assessed by the Body Perception Questionnaire (BPQ); (2) context-dependent visual processing, as assessed by the rod-and-frame test (RFT); and (3) conflict resolution, as assessed by the Stroop test. We found a significant positive correlation between the RHI-associated proprioceptive drift and context-dependent visual processing on the RFT, but not between the RHI and body awareness on the BPQ. In the second experiment, we examined the RHI in advanced yoga practitioners with an embodied lifestyle and a heightened sense of their own body in space. They succumbed to the illusion just as much as did yoga-naïve control participants, despite significantly greater body awareness on the BPQ. These findings suggest that susceptibility to the RHI and awareness of one's own body are at least partially independent processes.

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