Virtual reality allows people to teleport into an avatar's body. Under the right conditions, the mind can be tricked into accepting the illusion that it actually ‘owns’ its new body. We collaborated with Durham Univeristy's psychology department, who are studying the body ownership illusion in children.
We built a fairground game in VR where children use a virtual hand to touch a sphere when when it lights up. The game has a range of setting which allow researchers to experimentally manipulate the look and behaviour of the hand in order to understand more about when the body ownership illusion occurs. For example, changing hand size, hand shape and introducing a delay between moving the real hand and the virtual hand. They could even turn the virtual hand into a crab's claw (see our previous workshop on Humuncular flexibility). 120 children have taken part in the study so far.
How do we know what our own body is? Adults use a combination of multisensory information from vision, touch and muscle information; as well as prior information on the likely size and shape of the body parts they see.
Body ownership is potentially difficult for children, whose bodies are continuously growing and changing. We know that young children (< 10 years) tend to rely more on visual information than adults for identifying a static body part as their own (Cowie et al 2013, 2016), but we don’t know how any of these sensory cues work in the critical case where the hand is moving.
In this project, the virtual hand was able to move in or out of synchrony with their own. Touches to the hands also occurred in or out of synchrony. We therefore measured how visual-movement and visual-touch synchrony contributed to a sense of body ownership. This project is funded by the ESRC.