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Neuroscience: What is it like to be invisible?

Scientific Reports

April 23, 2015

The experience of having an invisible body reduces the social anxiety response to standing in front of an audience, research in Scientific Reports this week suggests. The study provides an experimental model of what it is like to be invisible and shows that this experience affects bodily self-perception and social cognition.

Recent advances in cloaking devices have led to speculation that invisibility cloaking of the human body may be possible in the future, raising questions about how invisibility might alter body perceptions and cognitive responses. To address these questions, Arvid Guterstam and colleagues enroll 125 volunteers and use virtual reality to create an illusion of owning an invisible body. Participants wore head mounted-displays that projected an image of empty space when they looked down at their bodies. The experimenter stroked the participant’s body with a paintbrush while the display simultaneously showed the paintbrush in the empty space in the corresponding location. Individuals reported feeling like they had a hollow, transparent body, indicating that the invisible body illusion was successful.

Participants were then exposed to virtual social stressful situation - standing in front of a group of strangers. Heart rates and levels of subjective stress were lower in individuals shown the illusion of an invisible body compared with those shown an image of a body in place of their own.

doi: 10.1038/srep09831

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