The building blocks of the full body ownership illusion

Antonella Maselli, Mel Slater

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous work has reported that it is not difficult to give people the illusion of ownership over an artificial body, providing a powerful tool for the investigation of the neural and cognitive mechanisms underlying body perception and self consciousness. We present an experimental study that uses immersive virtual reality focused on identifying the perceptual building blocks of this illusion. We systematically manipulated visuotactile and visual sensorimotor contingencies, visual perspective, and the appearance of the virtual body in order to assess their relative role and mutual interaction. Consistent results from subjective reports and physiological measures showed that a first person perspective over a fake humanoid body is essential for eliciting a body ownership illusion. We found that the level of realism of the virtual body, in particular the realism of skin tone, plays a critical role: when high enough, the illusion can be triggered by the sole effect of the spatial overlap between the real and virtual bodies, providing congruent visuoproprioceptive information, with no need for the additional contribution of congruent visuotactile and/or visual sensorimotor cues. Additionally, we found that the processing of incongruent perceptual cues can be modulated by the level of the illusion: when the illusion is strong, incongruent cues are not experienced as incorrect. Participants exposed to asynchronous visuotactile stimulation can experience the ownership illusion and perceive touch as originating from an object seen to contact the virtual body. Analogously, when the level of realism of the virtual body and/or the spatial overlap of the two bodies is not high enough, the contribution of congruent multisensory and/or sensorimotor cues is required for evoking the illusion. On the basis of these results and inspired by findings from neurophysiological recordings in the monkey, we propose a model that accounts for many of the results reported in the literature.

Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberMAR
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2013


  • First person perspective
  • Full body ownership illusion
  • Multisensory integration
  • Out-of-body experiences
  • Perceptual illusions
  • Rubber hand illusion
  • Virtual reality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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