Body-Swapping Experiment Shows How “Swapping Bodies” With a Friend Changes Our Sense of Self

Body-Swapping Experiment Setup

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This image reveals a graphic of the body-swapping experiment setup. Credit: Mattias Karlen

Our sense of who we are is believed to be affected by things like our youth experiences, our interactions with others, and now, scientists state, our bodies. A research study appearing today (August 26, 2020) in the journal iScience reveals that, when sets of buddies switched bodies in an affective impression, their beliefs about their own characters ended up being more comparable to their beliefs about their buddies’ characters. The findings recommend that this close tie in between our mental and physical sense of self is likewise associated with functions like memory: when our psychological self-concept doesn’t match our physical self, our memory can end up being impaired.

“As a child, I liked to imagine what it would be like to one day wake up in someone else’s body,” states very first author Pawel Tacikowski, a postdoctoral scientist at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. “Many kids probably have those fantasies, and I guess I’ve never grown out of it — I just turned it into my job.”

Changing Self Concept

This image demonstrates how the self-concept modifications after the affective impression. Credit: Pawel Tacikowski

The group from the Brain, Body, and Self Laboratory led by Henrik Ehrsson equipped sets of buddies with safety glasses revealing live feeds of the other individual’s body from a first-person viewpoint. To even more the impression, they used synchronised touches to both individuals on matching body parts so they might likewise feel what they saw in the safety glasses. After simply a couple of minutes, the impression usually worked; to reveal that it did, the scientists threatened the good friend’s body with a prop knife and discovered that the individual broke out into a sweat as if they were the one being threatened. “Body swapping is not a domain reserved for science fiction movies anymore,” Tacikowski states.

Participants were just made to seem like they had “woken up in someone else’s body” for a short time period, however that was long enough to substantially change their self-perception. Before the body swap, individuals ranked their buddies on characteristics like talkativeness, happiness, self-reliance, and self-confidence. Compared to this standard, throughout the swap, they tended to rate themselves as more comparable to the good friend whose body they remained in.

Changing Self VR

This image reveals a creative representation of altering physical self-concept while using the safety glasses. Credit: Mattias Karlen

The impression likewise affected memory. “There is a well-established finding that people are better at remembering things that are related to themselves. So, we thought if we interfered with one’s self-representation during the illusion, that should generally decrease their memory performance,” states Tacikowski.

And it did: individuals in the impression usually carried out even worse on memory tests. More significantly, nevertheless, individuals who more completely welcomed their good friend’s body as their own and substantially changed their character scores to match how they ranked their good friend carried out much better on the tests than those who suggested they felt detached from their body. The scientists state this might be due to the fact that they had less “self-incoherence,” significance that their psychological and physical self-representations still lined up.

These findings might be necessary when taking a look at depersonalization condition, where individuals feel an incoherence in between their mindset and their bodies, and other psychiatric conditions like anxiety. “We show that the self-concept has the potential to change really quickly, which brings us to some potentially interesting practical implications,” states Tacikowski. “People who suffer from depression often have very rigid and negative beliefs about themselves that can be devastating to their everyday functioning. If you change this illusion slightly, it could potentially make those beliefs less rigid and less negative.”

For now, however, he wishes to develop a more basic structure for how the sense of self is built throughout the physical and mental levels. “Now, my mind is occupied with the question of how this behavioral effect works — what the brain mechanism is,” states Tacikowski. “Then, we can use this model for more specific clinical applications to possibly develop better treatments.”


Reference: “Perception of Our Own Body Influences Self-Concept and Self-Incoherence Impairs Episodic Memory” by Pawel Tacikowski, Marieke L. Weijs and H. Henrik Ehrsson, 26 August 2020, iScience.
DOI: 10.1016/j.isci.2020.101429

This work was supported by the Swedish Research Council, Torsten Söderberg Stiftelse, Göran Gustafsons Stiftelse, and the European Commission.

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