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Self-perception beyond the body: the role of past agency

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Abstract

Technological progress provides us with an increasing variety of devices that now mediate what previously has been achieved by social face-to-face interaction. Here, we investigate whether this leads to the incorporation of such devices into representations of our body. Using explicit (body ownership questionnaire) and implicit (proprioceptive drift rate) measures together with a synchronous/asynchronous stroking technique, we show that people have an increased tendency to integrate non-corporeal objects into their body after synchronous stroking. Explicit measures of body ownership show that people had greater average scores in the synchronous condition as compared to the asynchronous condition for all objects that we tested (computer mouse, rubber hand, smart phone, and a wooden block). However, our implicit measure of body ownership showed a numerically larger proprioceptive drift for a rubber hand than for a computer mouse, numerically comparable ownership measures for a smart phone and a rubber hand, and a significantly stronger proprioceptive drift for a smart phone than for a wooden block. These findings suggest that direct, subjective measures and indirect, objective measures of body ownership are based on different kinds of information; the latter might be more sensitive to objects for which we recall past agency based on our history of personal experiences with these objects. Taken altogether, our observations support the idea that the perceived bodily self is rather flexible and is likely to emerge through multisensory integration and top-down expectations of agency.

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Notes

  1. For the computer mouse, the Friedman test of the questionnaire data showed significantly increased ratings after synchronous than asynchronous stroking for body ownership items Q1 (χ 2(1) = 15.21, p < 0.001), Q2 (χ 2(1) = 15.21, p < 0.001) and Q3 (χ 2(1) = 4.77, p = 0.029). We found no synchrony effect in Q4 and Q7 (χ 2s(1) < 0.23, ps > 0.63). For Q6 (χ 2(1) = 5.40, p = 0.020) and Q8 (χ 2(1) = 11.27, p = 0.001) synchronous as compared to asynchronous stroking significantly increased the ratings, while a similar pattern was found for Q5 that, however, did not reach the significance level (χ 2(1) = 3.27, p = 0.071). For the rubber hand, we found a significant increase after synchronous than asynchronous stroking in all body ownership items Q1 (χ 2(1) = 10.89, p = 0.001), Q2 (χ 2(1) = 7.20, p = 0.007), and Q3 (χ 2(1) = 9.80, p = 0.002). Q4, Q5 and Q7 showed no significant effect of Synchrony (χ 2s(1) < 2.01, ps > 0.15), while there were marginally increased ratings after synchronous than asynchronous stroking in Q6 that, however, did not reach the standard significance level (χ 2(1) = 3.56, p = 0.059) and Q8 (χ 2(1) = 3.20, p = 0.074).

  2. For the smart phone, the non-parametric Friedman test of the questionnaire data showed a significant increase for all three body ownership items after synchronous than asynchronous stroking, Q1 (χ 2(1) = 4.77, p = 0.029), Q2 (χ 2(1) = 14.22, p < 0.001), and Q3 (χ 2(1) = 5.56, p = 0.018), but not in any other item (Q4–Q8: χ 2s(1) < 2.28, ps > 0.13). For the rubber hand, there was a significant increase after synchronous than asynchronous stroking in body ownership items Q2 (χ 2(1) = 11.84, p = 0.001) and Q3 (χ 2(1) = 8.00, p = 0.005) and a marginal numerical, but non-significant increase in the same direction in Q1 (χ 2(1) = 2.88, p = 0.09). Q4, Q5 and Q7 showed no significant effect of Synchrony (χ 2s(1) < 2.58, ps > 0.10), while we found a significantly increased rating after synchronous than asynchronous stroking in Q6 (χ 2(1) = 7.12, p = 0.008) and a numerical, but non-significant increase in the same direction for the rating in Q8 (χ 2(1) = 3.56, p = 0.059).

  3. For the smart phone, we found a significantly enhanced score in body ownership items after synchronous than asynchronous stroking in Q1 (χ 2(1) = 4.77, p = 0.029) and Q3 (χ 2(1) = 4.00, p = 0.046), but not in Q2 (χ 2(1) = 0.89, p = 3.46). There were no significant differences after synchronous than asynchronous stroking in all other items (Q4–Q8: χ 2s(1) < 1.93, ps > 0.165). For the wooden block, we observed significantly enhanced scores after synchronous than asynchronous stroking in Q1 (χ 2(1) = 12.25, p < 0.001) and Q2 (χ 2(1) = 10.89, p = 0.001), while there was a small, but non-significant increase after synchronous than asynchronous stroking in Q3 (χ 2(1) = 3.77, p = 0.052). For Q4 (χ 2(1) = 3.77, p = 0.052) and Q8 (χ 2(1) = 3.60, p = 0.058) we similarly found a numerical, but non-significant increase after synchronous than asynchronous stroking, and all other items (Q5, Q6 and Q7) showed no significant effect of synchrony (χ 2s(1) < 0.34, ps > 0.55).

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Florian Frings and Claudia Nowak for help with data acquisition.

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Correspondence to Roman Liepelt.

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The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

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Liepelt, R., Dolk, T. & Hommel, B. Self-perception beyond the body: the role of past agency. Psychological Research 81, 549–559 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-016-0766-1

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