Absence of reliable physiological signature of illusory body ownership revealed by fine-grained autonomic measurement during the rubber hand illusion

Critchley, Hugo D, Botan, Vanessa and Ward, Jamie (2021) Absence of reliable physiological signature of illusory body ownership revealed by fine-grained autonomic measurement during the rubber hand illusion. PLoS ONE, 16 (4). a0237282 1-21. ISSN 1932-6203

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The neural representation of a ‘biological self’ is linked theoretically to the control of bodily physiology. In an influential model, selfhood relates to internal agency and higher-order interoceptive representation, inferred from the predicted impact of efferent autonomic nervous activity on afferent viscerosensory feedback. Here we tested if an altered representation of physical self (illusory embodiment of an artificial hand) is accompanied by sustained shifts in autonomic activity. Participants (N = 37) underwent procedures for induction of the rubber hand illusion (synchronous stroking of own unseen hand and observed stroking of artificial hand) and a control condition (asychronous stroking). We recorded electrocardiography, electrodermal activity, and a non-invasive measure of multiunit skin sympathetic nerve activity (SKNA) from the chest. We compared these autonomic indices between task conditions, and between individuals who did and did not experience the illusion. Bayes factors quantified the strength of evidence for and against null hypotheses. Observed proprioceptive drift and subjective reports confirmed the efficacy of the synchronous (vs asynchronous) condition in inducing illusory hand ownership. Stringent discriminant analysis classified 24/37 individuals as experiencing the rubber hand illusion. Surprisingly, heart rate, heart rate variability, electrodermal activity, and SKNA measures revealed no autonomic differences between synchronous vs asynchronous conditions, nor between individuals who did or did not experience the rubber hand illusion. Bayes factors indicated substantial evidence for no physiological differences. In contrast to earlier reports, our autonomic data show the absence of a reliable change in physiological state during the rubber hand illusion. More encompassing perturbations of self-experience, for example in full body illusions, may nevertheless be coupled to, or facilitated by, changes in efferent autonomic activity and afferent viscerosensory feedback. Our findings suggest that such changes in bodily physiology are not sustained as an obligatory component of the rubber hand illusion.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: Brighton and Sussex Medical School > Neuroscience
School of Psychology > Psychology
SWORD Depositor: Mx Elements Account
Depositing User: Mx Elements Account
Date Deposited: 03 Jun 2021 14:45
Last Modified: 26 Nov 2021 13:26
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/99598

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