Feeling flat? You may think
you're a table
By Roger Highfield,
People can be persuaded to feel like a table,
according to a bizarre experiment that sheds new light on body image
disorders such as anorexia.
Scientists have already reported on one odd illusion
that occurs when a person cannot see their own hand but can see a
rubber hand placed next to them on a table.
When both are tapped and stroked in a sequence
simultaneously, the subject experiences the illusion that the touch
sensation came from the fake hand.
Prof Vilayanur Ramachandran and Dr Carrie Armel of
the University of California, San Diego, took the experiment one
step further and simply stroked the table in precise synchrony.
"To our astonishment, subjects often reported
sensations arising from the table surface, despite the fact that it
bears no visual resemblance to a hand," they report today in the
Proceedings B journal of the Royal Society.
"The interesting thing is that this bizarre
perception of assimilating a table into one's own body image is so
resistant to the person's knowledge of the absurdity of the
situation," said Dr Armel.
The work shows that body image is not "hard-wired"
but a malleable and continually updated "temporary shell" based on
information from vision and touch.
The scientists believe the findings may have
implications for helping those with body image disorders such as
anorexia nervosa. "The more we can understand how these processes
work, the more we can develop ways of improving people's own body
image," said Dr Armel.