Previous work has reported that it is not difficult to give people the illusion of ownership over an artificial body, providing a powerful tool for the investigation of the neural and cognitive mechanisms underlying body perception and self consciousness. We present an experimental study that uses immersive virtual reality (IVR) focused on identifying the perceptual building blocks of this illusion. We systematically manipulated visuotactile and visual sensorimotor contingencies, visual perspective, and the appearance of the virtual body in order to assess their relative role and mutual interaction. Consistent results from subjective reports and physiological measures showed that a first person perspective over a fake humanoid body is essential for eliciting a body ownership illusion. We found that the illusion of ownership can be generated when the virtual body has a realistic skin tone and spatially substitutes the real body seen from a first person perspective. In this case there is no need for an additional contribution of congruent visuotactile or sensorimotor cues. Additionally, we found that the processing of incongruent perceptual cues can be modulated by the level of the illusion: when the illusion is strong, incongruent cues are not experienced as incorrect. Participants exposed to asynchronous visuotactile stimulation can experience the ownership illusion and perceive touch as originating from an object seen to contact the virtual body. Analogously, when the level of realism of the virtual body is not high enough and/or when there is no spatial overlap between the two bodies, then the contribution of congruent multisensory and/or sensorimotor cues is required for evoking the illusion. On the basis of these results and inspired by findings from neurophysiological recordings in the monkey, we propose a model that accounts for many of the results reported in the literature.
Maselli, A., & Slater, M. (2013). The building blocks of the full body ownership illusion. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00083