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Body illusions


Try these astounding experiments to trick your body and brain.


Vilaynur Ramachandran, the world-renowned neurologist, has used these experiments to investigate phantom limb pain.


More details about how your brain perceives your body can be found in two other parts of this website:


Phantom limbs


The dancers brain


The Pinocchio experiment with body image

  • Find 2 willing (and good) friends
  • Sit on a chair blind-folded, and ask your friend (let’s call her Sam) to sit on a chair in front of you, with her back to you.
  • Ask your other friend to take your right hand and put it on Sam’s nose
  • Tap and stroke her nose in a gentle random manner, making exactly identical movements with your other hand, on your own nose.
  • Continue this for 60 seconds.

About 50% of people will have the extremely odd sensation that their nose is 3 feet long, or somehow their nose is elsewhere!


Body image and a rubber arm


You will need

  • 1 friend
  • 1 fairly realistic rubber hand or arm
    • Put one of your arms behind a screen or box on the table, so you can’t see it.
    • Put the rubber arm on the table in a position that looks like it’s your arm. Look at this hand
    • Now get your friend to stroke both your real hand, and the fake hand.
    • They must stroke both identically, with the same timing and at the same part of your hand.
    • You’ll have the strange sensation the rubber hand actually belongs to you.

Before you begin, ask your friend after a minute or so of starting the experiment to (without warning) hit the rubber hand very hard – what do you do?