Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Out-of-body experiences on tap

Hi all,

The 22nd June 2013 issue of the "New Scientist" magazine (Vol. 218, Number 2922) carries an article titled "Donate your heartbeat for an out-of-body experience." The text reads:

"A live video of your body appearing to pulse in time with your heartbeat can trigger an out-of-body experience. We can identify with a virtual body in a different location to our own if we are fed conflicting information via senses such as vision and touch.

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Lausanne wondered whether the experience could also be triggered by playing with signals from within our own bodies - interoception. They asked 17 people to stand wearing a headset which showed themselves being filmed from behind, so that they essentially saw their own back 2 metres in front of them. Software created a halo effect around the virtual body, with the halo flashing either in time with their heartbeat or slightly out of step - although volunteers were not told this was the case.

After 6 minutes, the volunteers closed their eyes and were guided backwards. They were then asked to move to where they felt they had been standing.

Participants performed well when the halo flashed out of sync with their pulse. But when it was in sync, they moved close to the position of their virtual body. This suggests their feeling of being "anchored" within their own body had been altered. (Psychological Science, in press.)

"Thomas Metzinger of the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, is impressed. "It tells us that human self-consciousness is anchored in interoception in a much stronger way then people have acknowledged before."

For more on interoception click here.

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