A new study out of Japan examined how we perceive our bodies in virtual reality. The study led by Michiteru Kitazaki at the Toyohashi University of Technology found some fascinating insights. The engineering professor had asked people how closely connected a person’s consciousness, and their bodies were. Based on the feedback he got, he came up with the Japanese idea of a soul without a body.
The experiment from Japan had one remarkable insight. It seems that people have a sense of body with just a pair of hands and feet in a virtual reality environment. No human body or head was needed. People felt like they had a body even though they lacked one.
This experiment led researchers to conclude the following. Would it be later possible to take the sense of body or consciousness even further? What if the arms and legs were removed? Would people still feel a sense of awareness in the environment? This would emulate a soulless body or spirit.
Much of the results of this experiment and other ones have to do with the brain filling in missing information. When you see hands and feet but no body, the brain automatically assumes the body is between the hands and feet. Thus, a sense of consciousness or body is created.
Dr. Kitazaki’s research delves heavily into what is called illusory body ownership. This is one someone thinks they have a body part when they do not. Amputees often experience this in a phenomenon called phantom limb. Even though they no longer have a limb, they still “feel” as though they do. They say they can feel the sensation of having a limb where they were amputated. Understanding illusory body ownership can help amputees who are struggling with phantom limb.
The Italian researcher, Antonella Maselli says that more tests need to be done on illusory body ownership. She says she would like to see the physiological responses measured during the next experiment. This will help show whether people do indeed think it is their bodies or not.