Karolinska team uses fMRI to create 'out-of-body' sensation

Swedish neuroscientists have used functional MRI (fMRI) to create an "out-of-body" sensation in study participants, according to research published online in Current Biology.

Lead author Dr. Arvid Guterstam of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm placed 15 participants in the brain scanner. They wore head-mounted displays and viewed themselves and the brain scanner from another part of the room so that they observed the body of a stranger in the foreground while their physical body was visible in the background -- and while their bodies were touched at the same time identical touches were delivered to the stranger's body (Current Biology, 30 April 2015).

"In a matter of seconds, the brain merges the sensation of touch and visual input from the new perspective, resulting in the illusion of owning the stranger's body and being located in that body's position in the room, outside the participant's physical body," he said in a statement released by the Karolinska.

The researchers then used this out-of-body illusion to perceptually "teleport" the participants to different places in the scanner room.

"Our results are important because they represent the first characterization of the brain areas that are involved in shaping the perceptual experience of the bodily self in space," Guterstam said.

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