Rubber-hand experiment and OBEs

Rubber/wooden hand experiment.

I have been interested in the phenomenon of the rubber hand experiment and recent studies relating to experimental induction of out of body experiences. This interest is partly for personal reasons relating to my experience of sleep paralysis and lucid dreams, but also because I have been doing some workshops on visual and perceptual illusions, and 3D stereoscopic image making. I thought t would be a good idea to start with the rubber hand experiment and also try the experiments in body swap by Henrik Ehrsson and Olaf Blanke.

I invited some experts to the studio who I thought might be interested in trying these experiments out and perhaps developing them. They brought presentations and some kit to do the rubber-hand experiment, most importantly a realistic rubber-hand. I borrowed some HMDs so along with a DV camera we had everything we needed to experimentally induct an out of body experience.

I was amazed at how well the rubber hand illusion worked. In this experiment the fingers of the rubber hand are stroked synchronously with the real hand [hidden from view]. You see the rubber hand in place of your own. As the illusion kicked in I began to feel strong connection with the fake rubber-hand. I felt the unnerving sensation that the rubber hand was infact, my own hand, and always had been. It felt that at any moment I could start to move the hand. It started to feel heavy, and this made my arm start to ache.

To be honest before i tried this I was slightly skeptical of this experiment, I was not convinced that the effect could be strong, total, or convincing’. For me there were several stages; a weirdness at the beginning, where I though nothing more was going to happen; this then increases as your real hand starts to feel very odd. Then there is a drifting and a odd numbness as you begin to connect with the rubber-hand, this connection then becomes strong, and even remains if visual contact is broken with the hand. I had an idea to try a wooden hand, and this worked surprisingly well. It made you feel as if your hand was shinny hard and smooth. This left me wanting to push this experiment further; What happened if you swapped the hand for a modified hand during the experiment, used less fingers or increasingly abstracted the hand progressively? Use a hand with just 3 fingers or a beast hand with hair and claws?

HMDs for the body swap experiment; even this early model seemed to prove quite effective for the experiment

Attempting the hand-shake illusion which work quite well even working cross gender!  This feels like you have swapped hands with the other person or that you have lost control of your own hand.  We also tried the set up as illustrated above. Like the rubber-hand it seemed there were progressive stages where so called ‘ownership’ shifts to the virtual body.  In our experiment we really only entered a mild sensation of ‘weirdness’ in a similar way to the rubber-hand experiment.  From here we could not quite get to a total shift of body location in a strong sence. Given my skepticism about the rubber-hand experiment, I am now convinced that the Body swap illusion could create a very strong sensation of being removed from ones own or OBE. Next time to do this experiment effectively, we need more space and time to set up and less visual distractions in the space.


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