Study Shows that Virtually Swapping Bodies Changes Perception of Self

No doubt inspired by such films as Freaky Friday and 1996’s Wish Upon A Star, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have been experimenting with the idea of self — namely, what changes occur when participants begin to view the world through the eyes of a different body.

“The team from the Brain, Body, and Self Laboratory led by Henrik Ehrsson outfitted pairs of friends with goggles showing live feeds of the other person’s body from a first-person perspective. To further the illusion, they applied simultaneous touches to both participants on corresponding body parts so they could also feel what they saw in the goggles.”

The effect worked both physically and mentally. Participants would psychologically react to the other body being “threatened,” and overall researchers found that the experience “significantly altered…self-perception.”

Participants also performed worse on memory tests, displaying just how much memory is tied to the perception of self.

This study is actually pretty similar to an experiment I highlighted in my post about the Shrinking Man Project. Only, in that case, researchers used a Barbie doll instead of a human friend, making participants feel like they were only centimetres tall. Weird stuff.

This latest study appeared in the journal iScience on August 26, 2020.


Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.