Using virtual-reality goggles, a camera and a stick, scientists have induced out-of-body experiences — the sensation of drifting outside of ne’s own body — in ordinary, healthy people, according to studies being published today in the journal Science. When people gazed at an illusory image of themselves through the goggles and were prodded in just the right way with the stick, they felt as if they had left their bodies.
The out-of-body experiments were conducted by two research groups using slightly different methods intended to expand the so-called rubber hand illusion.
In Switzerland, Dr. Olaf Blanke, a neuroscientist at the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne, asked people to don virtual-reality goggles while standing in an empty room. A camera projected an image of each person taken from the back and displayed that image as if it were six feet in front of the subject, who thus saw an illusory image of himself. Then Dr. Blanke stroked each person’s back for one minute with a stick while simultaneously projecting the image of the stick onto the illusory body. When the strokes were synchronous, people reported the sensation of being momentarily within the illusory body. When the strokes were not synchronous, the illusion did not occur.
In another variation, Dr. Blanke projected a “rubber body” — a cheap mannequin bought on eBay and dressed in the same clothes as the subject — into the virtual-reality goggles. With synchronous strokes of the stick, people’s sense of self drifted into the mannequin.
A separate set of experiments was carried out by Henrik Ehrsson, an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.