Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

J Neurophysiol. 2019 Dec 4. doi: 10.1152/jn.00617.2019

The 'embreathment' illusion highlights the role of breathing in corporeal awareness

Recent theories posit that physiological signals contribute to corporeal awareness - the basic feeling that one has a body (body ownership) which acts according to one's will (body agency) and occupies a specific position (body location). Combining physiological recordings with immersive virtual reality, we found that an ecological mapping of real respiratory patterns onto a virtual body illusorily changes corporeal awareness. This new way of inducing a respiratory bodily illusion, called 'embreathment', revealed that breathing is almost as important as visual appearance for inducing body ownership, and more important than any other cue for body agency. These effects were moderated by individual levels of interoception, as assessed through a standard heartbeat counting task and a new 'pneumoception' task. By showing that respiratory, visual and spatial signals exert a specific and weighted influence on the fundamental feeling that one is an embodied agent, we pave the way for a comprehensive hierarchical model of corporeal awareness.

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