Rubber-hand illusion experiment

As part of my research into perceptual illusions, I looked into The ‘Rubber Hand Experiment’. This is a classic low tech experiment that can help us “understand how sight, touch and “proprioception” the sense of body position, combine to create a convincing feeling of body ownership, one of the foundations of self-consciousness  (Nature 1998, vol 391, p 756 )”. Recent studies have gone on to experimentally induct of out of body experiences or create body swap illusions. See the work of Henrik Ehrsson and Olaf Blanke. [see link ] I invited some psychologists to the studio [including Lizzi Lewis of BEAM Lab and Paul Sermon] who I have expertise in this area, they brought presentations and some kit to do the rubber-hand experiment, most importantly a realistic rubber-hand [which I since discovered is not really needed] with Head Mounted Displays, and a DV camera we had everything we needed to experimentally induct an out of body experience!

I was amazed at how well the rubber hand illusion worked. In this experiment, the fingers of the rubber hand are stroked synchronously with the real hand [hidden from view]. You see the rubber hand in place of your own.  It took a long time for me but as the illusion kicked in I began to feel a strong connection with the fake rubber-hand. I felt the unnerving sensation that the rubber hand was in fact, my own hand, and always had been. It felt that at any moment I could start to move the hand. It started to feel heavy, and this made my arm start to ache.

To be honest, before I tried this I was slightly sceptical of this experiment, I was not convinced that the effect could be strong, total, or convincing’. For me there were several stages; a weirdness at the beginning, where I thought nothing more was going to happen; this then increases as your real hand starts to feel very odd. Then there is a drifting and an odd numbness as you begin to connect with the rubber-hand, this connection then becomes strong, and even remains if visual contact is broken with the hand briefly.

I had an idea to try a wooden hand, and this worked surprisingly well. It made me feel as if my hand was shiny hard and smooth. This left me wanting to push this experiment further; What happened if you swapped the hand for a modified hand during the experiment, used fewer fingers or increasingly abstracted the hand progressively? Or used a hand with just 3 fingers or a beast hand with hair and claws? Lizzi Lewis brought a set of other hands made with rubber gloves and with different textures which she uses as part of her research.

attempting the handshake illusion using HMDs and a DV camera.


Basic set up for out of body experience Henrik Ehrsson and Olaf Blanke. [see link
We Also experimented with some HMDs. Attempting the ‘hand-shake illusion’ which feels like you have swapped hands with the other person or that you have lost control of your own hand. We also tried the set up as illustrated above. Like the rubber-hand it seemed, there were progressive stages where so-called ‘ownership’ shifts to the virtual body. In our experiment, we really only entered a mild sensation of ‘weirdness’. From here we could not quite get to a total shift of body location in a strong sense, but with better HMDs and more space, I am sure it would have been more effective.

Given my scepticism about the rubber-hand experiment, I am now convinced that the Body swap illusion could create a very strong sensation of being removed from one’s own body or simulate the effect of an out of body experience. Next time to do this experiment effectively, we need more space and time to set up with less visual distractions in the space.




Clay hand experiment #1

Working again with Lizzi Lewis of BEAM Lab and Manchester Science Museum we developed a workshop based on the ‘Rubber Hand Experiment’. As we had to work with a large number of people and we didn’t have funding to get loads of rubber hands. So we made the hands in the workshop with clay and used gloves full of different materials, sand, gel, lentils, etc. This had some interesting outcomes, that warranted further research…


Clay hands

As you can see the hands were diverse in form, for the illusion to be effective the hand does not need to be true to life necessarily. Some hands were made purposefully alien for experiments and seemed to work effectively. I wondered if participants are more likely to connect with a hand that they made themselves?

Additionally, we found that you can also remove a finger of the clay hand while maintaining the tactile stimulation routine, and move it away from the hand and reposition it! With clay it is also possible to try squashing and reshaping the hand, making holes in the hand. Rejoining parts of the hand into different places.

The Sensorium of Animals

Electroreception in Experimental and Historical Media and Design Research.

I was pleased to be invited to take part in this project along with an interesting selection of artists working with sound animals and the invisible world of signals as well as a cognitive neuroscientist and an expert in electric fish…


“This research project explores the possibilities of technology-mediated systems to alter the human sensory apparatus from artistic-experimental and media historical angles. One part of this research focuses on possibilities of expanding the human sensory system beyond its biological limits, taking inspiration from sensorial abilities found in certain animals. Artistic-experimental systems, for instance in the field of wearable technology, will be tried out, researched and made available. The other part of this research is concerned with the historically informed study of cybernetic man-machine-structures in media history, along with a history of knowledge of the sensory physiology of non-human organisms that have continuously provided repercussion into the cultural history of media. This project is situated at the intersection of biology, media technology, experimental media practice and media aesthetics, design research and media history.”

Project Team
Dr. Shintaro Miyazaki (lead)
Susanna Hertrich

DIY Neuro stimulation

Reposted from my other blog 2009…

I think the discussion around Michael Persinger’s God helmet experiment was really interesting. I had to act on this and investigate the realm of experimental psychology further. I got in touch with him to ask some questions about the technology and the experimental process. I asked if I could make an array electromagnetic coils with oscillating magnetic field could generate similar effects. Which he seemed to think was feasible.  I decided to make a modified version of the god helmet to work with my Enki interface.

coil box
Here is a view my DIY neuro-stimulation device there are 4 coils which oscillate with magnetic frequencies, I have been using MAX MSP to drive these using electrical pulses derived from the electric fish. The magnetic coils are fitted to an elastic band which fits over the head, to the back of the head is a junction box, and the two coil arrays sit at the side of the head near the temporal lobes.

ENKI exhibition at Kapellica Gallery

10/2012– 01/2013 Enki [Solo show] Kapellica Gallery, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Enki Experiment 04, Kapellica Gallery, Ljubljana, Slovenia 2012
Enki Experiment 04, Kapellica Gallery, Ljubljana, Slovenia 2012
Enki Experiment 04, Kapellica Gallery, Ljubljana, Slovenia 2012


Enki Experiment 04, Kapellica Gallery, Ljubljana, Slovenia 2012

Enki experiment 5

Possibly the final showing of the ENKI project
ENKI is a series of experiments in bio-interfacing between humans and certain types of Electrogenic Fish .. Ultimately this is achieved through psycho-acoustic audio and visual entrainment as a means of modulating human emotional state. During this process, bio-electrical activity is monitored and used as a means to create a feedback loop between organisms. The research aims to study the interaction between tiny bio-electrical fields of both species [human and fish] specifically the way in which these fields modulate and the means of controlling them. It also aims to discover if it is possible to create a harmonious state of interaction that can be of benefit to both species, no matter how different.

Enki – 2005 2009
The ENKI project was developed through an Arts Council, International Artists Fellowship, Pepiniere programme, Paris, with Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) France in 2006. Since then it has been continually developing. It has been shown in the UK Europe including, Dutch Electronic Arts Festival, NL, CAAC, Seville, Spain 2007. International Festival of Art /Science /New Technologies, Prague, the European Forum for Emerging Creation Luxembourg and Spectropia08, Riga, Latvia. Most recently in 2009 ‘ENKI Experiment 3’ was commissioned by Arts Catalyst for the show Interspecies.

Amplitude Modulation Workshop

I met Martin Howse in 2009 when he invited me to do a workshop for his micro research series in Berlin. At the time he had a fantastic apartment with a large garage space for a studio. The large table at its centre became sprawled with electronics by the end of the day. I had the opportunity to take a look at some of his projects, wonderful hand-drawn circuits burnt and encrusted that looked more like remnants from some other device of unknown function. For this workshop we investigated Amplitude Modulation, turning light into sound, use of the LM chips as an amplifier and using light sensors as an input, and making LEDs and lasers transmit sounds and signals through light over distance. [ See iLog Photsynthisiser] as well as some more experiments in ganzfeld perception.