When pairs of friends swapped bodies in a perceptual illusion, their beliefs about their own personalities became more similar to their beliefs about their friends’ personalities
A fascinating new innovative study which has just been published in the journal, iScience, has indicated that a link between our physical and psychological sense of self, is implicated with our memory function, and when our mental self-concept doesn’t match our physical self, our memory can become impaired.
Influenced By Our Pasts
It is understood that our feelings of who we actually are, is to some degree, determined by our experiences as a child, and our interaction with other children and grown-ups. A Post doctoral researcher at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, and the first author of the research project, Pawel Tacikowski, remarked, “As a child, I liked to imagine what it would be like to one day wake up in someone else’s body. Many kids probably have those fantasies, and I guess I’ve never grown out of it — I just turned it into my job.”
How the Research Was Conducted
The Brain, Body, and Self Laboratory team, conducted the study by supplying goggles to pairs of friends. When they put them on, they were able to watch real-time feeds of their paired friend’s body, from a first-person point of view. Then for the purpose of furthering the illusion, the scientists made simultaneous touches to both participants on corresponding body parts so they could also feel what they saw in the goggles.
After just a few moments, the illusion generally worked; to show that it did, the researchers threatened the friend’s body with a prop knife and found that the participant broke out into a sweat as if they were the one being threatened.
The subjects were only made to feel as though they had ‘woken up in someone else’s body’ for a short while – yet that was long enough to substantially modify their self-perception
Prior to the body swap, the subjects graded their paired friends on traits such as: confidence, independence, cheerfulness, and talkativeness. Interestingly, when a comparison was made to this standard: at the time of the swap, they were inclined to grade themselves as more like the friend whose body they were in.
The Impact on Memory
Tacikowski. noted; “here is a well-established finding that people are better at remembering things that are related to themselves. So, we thought if we interfered with one’s self-representation during the illusion, that should generally decrease their memory performance.” – And this is exactly what happened!
Generally speaking, those taking part in the illusion, fared worse on memory tests. Of note, however, subjects who “more fully embraced their friend’s body as their own, and significantly adjusted their personality ratings to match how they rated their friend, performed better on the tests than those who indicated they felt disconnected from their body”. According to the scientists, this may be because the participants’ physical and mental representations of the self were still aligned.