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Synchronized virtual reality heartbeat triggers out-of-body experiences

By Lakshmi Sandhana August 25, 2013

New research demonstrates that it could be easy to trick the mind and trigger an out-of-body experience New research demonstrates that triggering an out-of-body experience (OBE) could be as simple as getting a person to watch a video of themselves with their heartbeat projected onto it. According to the study, it's easy to trick the mind into thinking it belongs to an external body and manipulate a person's self-consciousness by externalizing the body's internal rhythms. The findings could lead to new treatments for people with perceptual disorders such as anorexia and could also help dieters too. In a typical out-of-body experience a person either experiences a feeling of floating outside of their body or of viewing it from outside of themselves. Most of us don't experience OBE's because our brains are constantly filtering information from all our senses to help us identify what we are and what we aren't. For instance we know that our reflection isn't actually part of us. However the processes that give us the feeling of being in our bodies can be disrupted either naturally (seizures) or artificially (feeding the brain conflicting sensory inputs). For example, in the well known "rubber hand" illusion, a person begins to identify more with a rubber hand when someone strokes it in front of them, while stroking their real hand out of sight. It's possible to expand this feeling to include the whole body as demonstrated in experiments that get a person to identify more with a virtual double than their own body by using virtual reality goggles. However, all of these experiments rely on manipulating external senses such as vision and touch. Not much is known about how information from our internal organs contributes to bodily self-consciousness and whether they can be manipulated to induce an OBE. That's the question Dr Jane Aspell, Senior Lecturer in

a single self." says Aspell." Aspell is currently studying "yo-yo" dieters and says she plans to continue investigating "how the internal body shapes who we are. Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)." Aspell and Heydrich decided to find out whether a person's bodily self-consciousness could be influenced by visually representing one of its vital inner rhythms – the pulsing heartbeat. "If you think about your body. what electrolytes are in your blood. your blood pressure. how full your stomach is. "There is a huge amount of diverse information being sent to your brain about your body and yet what you perceive is not these medley of signals but just you – a single body. Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience. These pieces of information about the external and internal states of your body must be integrated or merged to generate this unity. Switzerland. "There is also a vast number of signals being sent to your brain from inside of your body every second that you are alive: about your heartbeat." The Swiss National Science Foundation and the Fondation Bertarelli supported the study which is slated for publication in the APS journal Psychological Science. this is the first study that clearly shows how visual signals containing information about the body's internal organs (in this case. They attached 17 participants to electrocardiogram sensors and had them view videos of their bodies through virtual reality goggles so that their body appeared to be two meters (6. According to the team." Aspell tells Gizmag.Psychology. "We could use this manipulation to help patients with anorexia to identify with their actual physical self. After a couple of minutes. "Patients with anorexia seem to identify with a body which is larger than their physical body. . This is what we are now beginning to study for the first time. Phd Student." The research could help people with distorted views of themselves to connect with their actual physical appearance.5 ft) in front of them. you know you are standing upright thanks to your sense of balance etc. you have several sources of information about it: you can see your hands and legs. "It confirms that the brain is able to integrate visual information with cardiac information. Participants saw their own heartbeats visually imposed on their virtual doubles in the form of a flashing outline around the body that pulsed in sync. how fast you are breathing. you can feel the seat you're sitting on via vision. Anglia Ruskin University. many of the participants reported sensations of being in an entirely different part of the room rather than their physical body and feeling that their "selves" were closer to their virtual doubles. the heartbeat) can change their perception of themselves." Aspell tells us. "It seems that the brain is very sensitive to patterns in the world which may relate to self – when the flashing was synchronous with the heartbeat this caused changes to subjects' self-perception. UK and Lukas Heydrich. set out to answer.

” .” They were filmed in real time by a video camera connected to the HMD.” says Aspell. which allowed them to view their own body standing two meters in front of them. the timing of the heartbeat was used to trigger a bright flashing outline which was superimposed on the virtual body shown via the HMD. reporting feeling closer to their double than they actually were. the subjects experienced a stronger identification with the virtual body. Physiological Psychology. reporting that it felt more like their own body. They also perceived that they were at a different location in the room than their physical body. Vision Press Coverage of this Article  Scientists trigger ‘out-of-body’ experience using heartbeats . “This is compatible with the theory that the brain generates our experience of self by merging information about our body from multiple sources. which served as “virtual reality goggles. The findings could inform new kinds of treatment for people with self-perception disorders.The Telegraph . including anorexia.org Visualized Heartbeat Can Trigger ‘Out-of-Body Experience’ Tags: Cognitive Neuroscience. including the eyes. Volunteers in the study were fitted with a head mounted display (HMD). The study. 2013 For Immediate Release Contact: Anna Mikulak Association for Psychological Science amikulak@psychologicalscience. “This research demonstrates that the experience of one’s self can be altered when presented with information about the internal state of one’s body. such as a heartbeat.PRESS RELEASE August 14. Perception. the ears. Psychological Science. is novel in that it shows that information about the internal state of the body — in this case. conducted by Jane Aspell of Anglia Ruskin University in the UK and Lukas Heydrich of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. 2013 A visual projection of human heartbeats can be used to generate an “out-of-body experience. and they experienced touch at a different location to their physical body.” according to new research to be published in Psychological Science. Virtual Reality. and even one’s internal organs. After watching the outline flash on and off in sync with the heartbeat for several minutes.August 13. Sensory Systems. a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. By also recording the volunteers’ heartbeat signals using electrodes. Consciousness. the heartbeat — can be used to change how people experience their own body and self. the skin.

Bruno Herbelin. The study was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (Grants 33CM30-124089. all of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. Virtual Reality.In the future. Switzerland. “They look in the mirror and think they are larger than they actually are. Physiological Psychology. She is currently working on a study about “yo-yo dieters” and how their self-perception changes as they gain and lose weight. Aspell hopes the research might help people suffering with self-perception problems. and the patient is therefore stuck with a perception of a larger self that is out of date. ### The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology.” Aspell concludes that “this experiment could be adapted to help people ‘reconnect’ with their current physical appearance.” Aspell added. Tags: Cognitive Neuroscience. have a disconnection from their own body. please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or amikulak@psychologicalscience.. Sensory Systems. Perception. for example. “Patients with anorexia. including anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder. For a copy of the article "Turning body and self inside out: Visualized heartbeats alter bodily self-consciousness and tactile perception" and access to other Psychological Science research findings. It could help them realize what the ‘real me’ actually looks like. Vision . Tom Lavanchy. This may be because their brain does not update its representation of the body after losing weight. and Olaf Blanke.org.” In addition to Aspell and Heydrich. co-authors on the study include Guillaume Marillier. Consciousness. Psychological Science. Sinergia Grant CRSII1-125135: Balancing Self and Body) and the Fondation Bertarelli.