What if you could, for a moment, have the body of someone of a different race, age, or sex? Would that change the way you feel about yourself or the way that you stereotype different social groups? In a paper published online in the Cell Press journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, researchers explain how they have used the brain’s ability to bring together information from different senses to make white people feel that they were inhabiting black bodies and adults feel like they had children’s bodies. The results of such virtual bodyswapping experiments are remarkable and have important implications for approaching phenomena such as race and gender discrimination.
(A) The Rubber Hand Illusion: Light-skinned Caucasian participants observe a dark-skinned rubber hand being stimulated in synchrony with their own unseen hand. This elicits a shift of body ownership to incorporate the other-race limb. Adapted and reproduced, with permission, from reference . (B) The Enfacement Illusion: Participants viewed the face of a racial outgroup member being stimulated in synchrony with their own to induce a sense of ownership over the observed face (see reference ). (C) Immersive Virtual Reality: (i) A participant wears a wide field-of-view stereo head-tracked head-mounted display and a motion capture suit for real-time body tracking. (ii) This is the participant’s view of the situation, whereby she can see her virtual body both directly and reflected in the mirror, in stereo as shown. The body she sees could be dark-skinned, light-skinned, or purple; in this case, the virtual body is dark skinned whereas she is light skinned.
Credit: Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Maister et al.
Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Maister et al.: “Changing bodies changes minds: owning another body affects social cognition”