The "embreathment" illusion highlights the role of breathing in corporeal awareness

Alessandro Monti, Giuseppina Porciello, Gaetano Tieri, Salvatore M. Aglioti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent theories posit that physiological signals contribute to corporeal awareness, the basic feeling that one has a body (body ownership) that acts according to one's will (body agency) and occupies a specific position (body location). Combining physiological recordings with immersive virtual reality, we found that an ecological mapping of real respiratory patterns onto a virtual body illusorily changes corporeal awareness. This new way of inducing a respiratory bodily illusion, called "embreathment," revealed that breathing is almost as important as visual appearance for inducing body ownership and more important than any other cue for body agency. These effects were moderated by individual levels of interoception, as assessed through a standard heartbeat-counting task and a new "pneumoception" task. By showing that respiratory, visual, and spatial signals exert a specific and weighted influence on the fundamental feeling that one is an embodied agent, we pave the way for a comprehensive hierarchical model of corporeal awareness.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Our body is the only object we sense from the inside; however, it is unclear how much inner physiology contributes to the global sensation of having a body and controlling it. We combine respiration recordings with immersive virtual reality and find that making a virtual body breathe like the real body gives an illusory sense of ownership and agency over the avatar, elucidating the role of a key physiological process like breathing in corporeal awareness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)420-427
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number1
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Dec 4 2019


  • corporeal awareness
  • embodiment
  • interoception
  • respiration
  • virtual reality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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