A Botvinick & Cohen’s (1998) original rubber

A sense of body ownership can be
seen as fundamental to the human condition and a principle feature of
subjective experience (Blanke & Metzinger, 2009). Moreover, Thakkar
et al. (2011) argue that body ownership is important in forming a sense of agency
and believe it acts as a developmental platform for individual psychological
identity. Consequently, if body ownership is quite so important, then surely it would seem logical to
question how it is constructed. Experiments such as Botvinick &
Cohen’s (1998) rubber hand illusion
experiment provide evidence that multisensory information is key in determining
body ownership. However, further evidence suggests that although multisensory
information – information ‘involving or using more than one of the senses’ (Oxford English Dictionary, 2010) – is very
significant, it is only one of a number of factors contributing to the idea of
body ownership. It seems apt to investigate how body ownership is constructed by focusing initially on the
significance of multisensory information and the evidence that supports this,
and then by addressing evidence of factors that potentially lessen the extent
that multisensory information plays in determining body ownership.

 

Experimental variations on Botvinick
& Cohen’s (1998) original rubber hand illusion have provided evidence for
multisensory information playing a significant role in determining body ownership.
During the experiment, a fake hand placed in view of the participant was
stroked in synchrony with their hidden real hand. Questionnaires demonstrated
that participants experienced an illusion in which they felt the tactile
stimulation on the visible fake hand instead of on their own hidden hand. Furthermore,
measures of proprioceptive drift provided evidence that proprioceptive
information is distorted by the illusion. What is interesting about the
illusion, shown by Armel and Ramachandran’s (2003)
skin conduction experiments, is that the hand is not just accepted by the body
behaviourally but also physiologically, suggesting participants use
multisensory information to encompass the fake hand into their malleable
internal body representation. The illusion is believed to occur because initial
disparity between the sight of the fake hand and the proprioceptive
representation of the participant’s real hand is solved by incorporating the fake
hand into the person’s own unique body representation (Botvinick, 2004; Makin et al.,
2008). This would indicate that a coherent sense of body ownership can
only be obtained by the integration of correlating multisensory information, stressing
the importance of multisensory information in determining body ownership.
Meanwhile, there is evidence Botvinick & Cohen’s (1998) paper has made
quite an impact in the scientific world. Within the ‘Web of Science’ archive alone it has been cited 1,296
times in other research. It is recognised that these citations can either be
reinforcements or disagreements with the research but nevertheless this number
of citations and the fact that it was published in a highly regarded journal
such as ‘Nature’ (1st/64 in Multidisciplinary Sciences (Clarivate
Analytics, 2016))
would suggest there is a great deal of interest in the interaction between
multisensory information and body ownership. This would seem to enforce the
link between the two, emphasising the extent of the involvement of multisensory
information in body ownership.

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