Movements and body ownership: Evidence from the rubber hand illusion after mechanical limb immobilization

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Abstract

There is no consensus on whether, and to what extent, actions contribute to constructing awareness of one's own body. Here we investigated at both physiological and behavioral level whether a prolonged limb immobilization affects body ownership. We tested a group of healthy participants, whose left-hand movements were prevented by a cast for one week, and a control group without any movement restriction. In both groups, we measured the strength of the rubber hand illusion (i.e., proprioceptive shift and questionnaire on ownership) and the physiological parameters known to be modulated by short-term arm immobilization (i.e., resting motor threshold, motor evoked potentials and force parameters) before and after the week of immobilization. Our results showed stronger illusory effects on the immobilized hand on both behavioral indexes and weaker illusory effects on the non-immobilized hand on the questionnaire. Additionally, the increased proprioceptive shift was positively correlated to the motor threshold of the contralateral hemisphere. Our findings show at both behavioral and physiological level that altering those movement-related signals which constantly stem from our own body parts, modulates the experience of those body parts as mine. This, in turn, supports the view of a direct role of actions in the developing and maintaining a coherent body ownership.

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