The Rubber Hand Illusion in Healthy Younger and Older Adults

in Multisensory Research
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Percepts about our body’s position in space and about body ownership are informed by multisensory feedback from visual, proprioceptive, and tactile inputs. The Rubber Hand Illusion (RHI) is a multisensory illusion that is induced when an observer sees a rubber hand being stroked while they feel their own, spatially displaced, and obstructed hand being stroked. When temporally synchronous, the visual–tactile interactions can create the illusion that the rubber hand belongs to the observer and that the observer’s real hand is shifted in position towards the rubber hand. Importantly, little is understood about whether these multisensory perceptions of the body change with older age. Thus, in this study we implemented a classic RHI protocol (synchronous versus asynchronous stroking) with healthy younger (18–35) and older (65+) adults and measured the magnitude of proprioceptive drift and the subjective experience of body ownership. As an adjunctive objective measure, skin temperature was recorded to evaluate whether decreases in skin temperature were associated with illusory percepts, as has been shown previously. The RHI was observed for both age groups with respect to increased drift and higher ratings of ownership following synchronous compared to asynchronous stroking. Importantly, no effects of age and no interactions between age and condition were observed for either of these outcome measures. No effects were observed for skin temperature. Overall, these results contribute to an emerging field of research investigating the conditions under which age-related differences in multisensory integration are observed by providing insights into the role of visual, proprioceptive, and tactile inputs on bodily percepts.

The Rubber Hand Illusion in Healthy Younger and Older Adults

in Multisensory Research



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    Experimental setup.

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    Averaged pointing responses relative to the actual position of the left index finger (in cm) for older and younger adults for Baseline, SYNCH, and ASYNCH conditions. Negative values indicate a horizontal bias away from the rubber hand, whereas positive values indicate a horizontal bias toward the rubber hand. Error bars indicate SEM.

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    Averaged scores for each of the questionnaire’s items (see Table 1 for item description) separated by condition (left) and by age group (right). Error bars represent SEM.

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    Changes in skin temperature (°C) between the start and the end of each experimental condition (SYNCH and ASYNCH) for older and younger adults. Channel 1 was attached to the left index finger, Channel 2 was attached to the center of the left hand, and Channel 3 was attached to the left ring finger. There were also no significant differences observed for any of the other four control locations.

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