Scientists are now working on an interesting project that is designed to make people invisible. A new study, conducted by a team of neuroscientists from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, has revealed a perceptual illusion of having an invisible body and showed that the feeling of invisibility changes our physical stress response in challenging social situations.
The researchers conducted an experiment in which the participants wear a set of head-mounted displays. Then, the participant was asked to look down at their body, but instead of their real body, they sees empty space. To evoke the feeling of having an invisible body, scientists touch the participant’s body in various locations with a large paintbrush while, with another paintbrush held in the other hand, exactly imitate the movements in mid-air in full view of the participant.
“Within less than a minute, the majority of the participants started to transfer the sensation of touch to the portion of empty space where they saw the paintbrush move and experienced an invisible body in that position,” said Arvid Guterstam, who is the lead author of the study.
Guterstam added, “We showed in a previous study that the same illusion can be created for a single hand. The present study demonstrates that the ‘invisible hand illusion’ can, surprisingly, be extended to an entire invisible body.”
The experiment involved 125 participants. To demonstrate that the illusion actually worked, the researchers would make a stabbing motion with a knife toward the empty space that represented the belly of the invisible body. The participants’ sweat response to seeing the knife was elevated while experiencing the illusion but absent when the illusion was broken, which suggests that the brain interprets the threat in empty space as a threat directed toward one’s own body.
In the second part of the study, the researchers examined whether the feeling of invisibility affects social anxiety by placing the participants in front of an audience of strangers.
“We found that their heart rate and self-reported stress level during the ‘performance’ was lower when they immediately prior had experienced the invisible body illusion compared to when they experienced having a physical body,” Arvid Guterstam stated. “These results are interesting because they show that the perceived physical quality of the body can change the way our brain processes social cues.”
The researchers believe that the results of the study will be helpful in future clinical research.
“Follow-up studies should also investigate whether the feeling of invisibility affects moral decision-making, to ensure that future invisibility cloaking does not make us lose our sense of right and wrong, which Plato asserted over two millennia ago,” Dr. Henrik Ehrsson, professor at the Department of Neuroscience, stated.
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