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The structure of self-experience during visuo–tactile stimulation of a virtual and the physical body

In: Seeing and Perceiving
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  • 1 Max-Planck-Institute for Biological Cybernetics, DE
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The simultaneous visuo–tactile stimulation of an individual’s body and a virtual body (avatar) is an experimental method used to investigate the mechanisms of self-experience. Studies incorporating this method found that it elicits the experience of bodily ownership over the avatar. Moreover, as part of our own research we found that it also has an effect on the experience of agency, spatial presence, as well as on the perception of self-motion, and thus on self-localization. However, it has so far not been investigated whether these effects represent distinct categories within conscious experience. We stroked the back of 21 male participants for three minutes while they watched an avatar getting synchronously stroked within a virtual city in a head-mounted display setup. Subsequently, we assessed their avatar and their spatial presence experience with 23 questionnaire items. The analysis of the responses to all items by means of nonmetric multidimensional scaling resulted in a two-dimensional map (stress = 0.151) on which three distinct categories of items could be identified: a cluster (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.89) consisting of all presence items, a cluster (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.88) consisting of agency-related items, and a cluster (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.93) consisting of items related to body ownership as well as self-localization. The reason that spatial presence formed a distinct category could be that body ownership, self-localization and agency are not reported in relation to space. Body ownership and self-localization belonged to the same category which we named identification phenomena. Hence, we propose the following three higher-order categories of self-experience: identification, agency, and spatial presence.

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