If imagination is man's evolutionary advantage what does it mean if we imagine a thing that where one is able to merger with someone else's mind... literally? Well apparently Psychotherapist, marriage counselors and now neuroscientist have created "body swapping" capabilities.
The New York Times reported on 12/1/08 that "At the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience last month, Swedish researchers presented evidence that the brain, when tricked by optical and sensory illusions, can quickly adopt any other human form, no matter how different, as its own."
Jeremy Bailenson, director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University, and his colleague Nick Yee call this the Proteus effect, after the Greek god who can embody many different self-representations.
In one experiment, the Stanford team found that people inhabiting physically attractive avatars were far more socially intimate in virtual interactions than those who had less appealing ones. The effect was subconscious: the study participants were not aware that they were especially good-looking, or that in virtual conversations they moved three feet closer to virtual conversation partners and revealed more about themselves than others did. This confidence lingered even after the experiment was over, when the virtual lookers picked more attractive partners as matches for a date.
Similar studies have found that people agree to contribute more to retirement accounts when they are virtually “age-morphed” to look older; and that they will exercise more after inhabiting an avatar that works out and loses weight.
Adding a physical body-swapping element, as the Swedish team did, is likely to amplify such changes. “It has video quality, it looks and feels more realistic than what we can do in virtual environments, so is likely to be much more persuasive,” Dr. Bailenson said in a telephone interview.
Perhaps too persuasive for some purposes. “It may be like the difference between a good book, where you can project yourself into a character by filling in with your imagination, and a movie, where the specific actor gets in the way of identifying strongly,” he went on.
And above and beyond any therapeutic purposes, the sensation is downright strange. In the experiments, said Dr. Ehrsson, the Swedish researcher, “even the feeling from the squeezing hand is felt in the scientist’s hand and not in your own; this is perhaps the strangest aspect of the experience.”