Self Recognition as a Perception Issue
A study led by Dr Manos Tsakiris at the Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway,
University of London, and released this month, raises further questions about
the nature of self, as it approaches the rubber body illusion issue from a fairly
unique angle, providing further evidence that who we are and who we perceive
ourselves to be, are not as intertwined as once thought, and both are subject
to change based on sensory stimuli.
The argument basically opens up the possibility of a rubber face illusion, to the list of such conditions that can be created successfully when a virtual surrogate and physical sensation are paired. Or in other language, when a volunteer looks at a 'mirror' that is in reality an augmented reality display screen, displaying a different face to the user's own over the area where their face should be which morphs into the same expressions as the user's own face, how does this affect the user's sense of self? Do they come to believe that the face they see in the 'mirror' is really them, and does their self-perception alter because of this?
Traditionally, the perception that the body you see and feel is you, has been estranged from the perception that the face you see in the mirror, and responds to your muscle movements is you. The two have been treated as entirely separate issues.
This work was intended to focus on the psychological nature of the study of self. Thanks to the pace of technological change, coupled with recent advances in facial overlay technologies, the opportunity has finally presented itself to test what was previously only seen as theory.
Of course, those of us who are familiar with the mind to mind of direct, frequent online interaction and self-exploration, know that neither the birth body nor the birth face is not necessarily who an individual actually is. However, empirical evidence to substantiate such beliefs is always necessary.
The Three Experiments
Three experiments were used in succession to test the user's self-perception using the augmented reality mirror. The first and third test being identical in nature, and used to provide measurable data of the effect of the second experiment, the main deal.
This was at heart, a rubber hand illusion study, concentrating on the face. That did make it unique, as the face is one of the most expressive parts of the human body, with the most subtle inflections, and most frequently examined in social interaction and self-grooming. However, fundamentally the experiment is no different from the others that have transpired in that regard. The most recent of which, was only published a month prior.
However, this approach was unique in that it tackled the "self image in the mirror" angle, that most people deal with on a daily basis. It also demonstrated in as little as ten minutes per person that even such daily exposure to self-facial-image can be overridden with relative ease once multisensory stimulation is involved.
The discovery of such a high proportional response to a single session, in which subjects began to bond with the new face to such an extent after a single session, correlated with other rubber hand and rubber body illusion studies. However, what would make for a lovely extension, would be a study on repeated exposure. Would repeat sessions of experiments 2 and 3 over time, create an increasing empathy and familiarisation with the modified avatar as being a part of the true self-image, or would improvements tail off over time?
The suspicion of this researcher is that the improvements would continue to grow until the modified face was perceived as an avatar of the person as much as the physical face is - after all, that is what transpires in social VR, all the time. However, no solid empirical evidence has been gathered to support this theory, and no such experiment is being planned at this time.
Overall, this is however another piece to the puzzle, proving yet again, that no matter which part of a person's body you replace with a duplicate, so long as multiple sensory channels are in place, one of which is visual, and a high degree of correlation to 'human' is present, then a subject's brain will subconsciously react to see whatever changed form is in front of it, as itself.
Good news indeed for avatar bonding, and living as one's avatar.