Using virtual reality, scientists in Switzerland and Sweden tricked the human brain into believing that the body was at a different location, mimicking an out-of-body experience. The technique could aid in the development of virtual-reality games in which the players actually feel as though they are inside the game. The results were published today in the journal Science.
Often interpreted as a spiritual experience, people have reported out-of-body sensations linked with epilepsy, drug use, and traumatic events like surgery or car accidents. The new experiments support the idea that these experiences are likely induced by a mismatch in sensory information somewhere in the brain.
An article in the Guardian explains the experiment:
In [one] experiment participants wore goggles containing a video screen for each eye. Each screen was fed images from a separate camera behind the participant and, because the two images were combined by the brain into a single image, they saw a 3D image of their own back.
Dr. Ehrsson then moved a plastic rod towards a location just below the cameras while the participant’s real chest was simultaneously touched in the corresponding position. The participants reported feeling that they were located back where the cameras had been placed, watching a body that belonged to someone else.