Rubber Hand Illusion

Another for the Brainteaser series now – The Rubber Hand Illusion.

This involves tricking your brain into believing that a rubber hand is actually your own – sounds a bit weird I know!

Botvinick & Cohen (1998) found that participants experience ownership of a rubber hand after they have viewed it receiving the same tactile stimulation as their own hand. Tactile stimulation is a fancy was of saying the hands were touched in the same way.

During the illusion, the participants’ own hand is hidden from them by a screen, and a rubber hand is placed on a table where the actual hand would be. The experimenter then uses a brush to stroke both hands in the same way, at exactly the same time. During this, the participant looks at the rubber hand. After a few seconds, the participant starts to feel as if the rubber hand is actually their own, so much so that they jump when the experimenter hits it with a hammer!

This illusion shows how powerful visual information is – in this case it overrides our sense of proprioception: the knowledge of where our limbs are in space. It is also evidence for neural plasticity – the flexibility of the brain to incorporate new information.

For a demonstration of this illusion, click the video below!

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