The rubber hand illusion

Which information is more important to the human brain: what we see or what we feel? Watch a psychologist trying to answer this question with a simple demonstration.

Do the preparation task first. Then watch the video and do the exercises. You can also read the transcript.

Transcript

Larry: Hi.

Edie: Hi.

Larry: I’m Larry.

Edie: Hi. Edie.

Larry: Very nice to meet you, Edie. We’re going to do a little demonstration here called the rubber hand illusion. It’s going to be a little scary …

Narrator: This illusion may look like fairground fun but it reveals one of the most important new ideas in brain science.

Larry: … Thank you. Right there. Good. And can you put this hand down right over here? And just curl it up like the rubber hand’s curled up, a little bit. All right? Now, what I’m going to do is try to position the rubber hand, so it looks like it’s your own.

Edie: OK.

Larry: OK. Could you imagine that being your own hand, kind of?

Edie: Yeah.

Larry: What we’re going to do is we’re going to just stroke your fingers simultaneously, the rubber finger and your real finger. And hopefully this will convince you that the rubber hand is your own, that your brain will actually adopt this hand.

Narrator: In the illusion, simply watching the rubber hand being stroked at the same time as the real hand is enough to trick the brain into adopting it as its own.

Larry: We like ‘weird’.

(Edie laughs)

Larry: And slowly but surely, you should feel that the hand you’re looking at is actually part of your body.

Edie: It feels like you’re touching my hand with that one.

Larry: Right, so it feels like this is your hand that I’m touching, right?

Edie: Yeah.

(Larry hits the rubber hand)

Edie: Oh!

(both laugh)

Larry: Are you OK?

Edie: Yeah! Yeah!

Larry: Good! Try that at home with your kids. Yeah!

Larry: The rubber hand illusion is a wonderful example of how multi-sensory perception can influence how we perceive our own body. I mean, that’s how deep multi-sensory perception runs. When you hold your hand out, it’s generally thought that you know it’s there because of the information you’re getting from your muscles and your tendons and that sort of thing. But what the rubber hand illusion does is show how that can be overridden by visual information.

Larry: OK, here comes your fun surprise.

Narrator: The rubber hand illusion shows the powerful connection between what we see and what we feel. But it reveals even more than simply the way our senses are connected. It hints that a fundamental change in the brain is taking place.

(Larry hits the rubber hand)

Man: Oh!

(both laugh)

Larry: Isn’t that strange?

Man: Yeah. That … that’s creepy.

Larry: So what might be going on in the rubber hand illusion is that the brain is actually changing to accommodate the new rubber hand, going through some sort of, you know, structural change that we call neuroplasticity.

Narrator: Neuroplasticity is an exciting new idea that suggests the brain can change in response to experience. And this is what’s taking place in the rubber hand illusion. The brain may be temporarily rewiring itself to adopt the plastic hand as its own.

Larry: You’re really feeling like it’s your hand now, huh?

Woman: Yes.

Larry: Is that a little weird?

Woman: Yes.

Larry: Yeah, we like ‘weird’ in perceptual psychology. Here we go.

(Larry hits her hand, both laugh)

Larry: Was that scary?

Woman: Yes!

Larry: Good! We like that!

© BBC

Discussion

Download
Worksheet90.53 KB

Language level

Upper intermediate: B2

Submitted by Alexander Togulew on Mon, 18/02/2019 - 21:49

Permalink
Interesting experience. The question for me is to what extent our brain can be rewired through visual perception. It is really a little bit creepy with the hammer. But what I'd like to know is whether the volunteers only get afraid of unexpected blow or they really feel pain from the blow even if this pain feeling is very short. To find it out I would volunteer to participate in the expirement)

Submitted by Laris Fdz on Fri, 01/02/2019 - 08:54

Permalink
I have read that mental patients (like scizophrenes) can tickle themselves because they think it is someone else's hand. I remember I was very surprised at the fact.

Submitted by MacolR on Fri, 18/01/2019 - 18:34

Permalink
To know how the brain works exactly, it will always be a great mistery. This video is very interesting.

Submitted by Payos on Tue, 08/01/2019 - 21:39

Permalink
Thanks for this wonderful video. The psychologist are really doing a great job with this effort on the rubber hand illusion research
Online courses
Learn English online – with the world's English experts