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The sensation of having a physical body is not as self-evident as one might think. Almost everyone who has had an arm or leg amputated experiences a phantom limb: a vivid sensation that the missing limb is still present. A new study by neuroscientists at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden shows that it is possible to evoke the illusion of having a phantom hand in non-amputated individuals.
"We discovered that most participants, within less than a minute, transfer the sensation of touch to the region of empty space where they see the paintbrush move, and experience an invisible hand in that position", says Arvid Guterstam, lead author of the study. "Previous research has shown that non-bodily objects, such as a block of wood, cannot be experienced as ones own hand, so we were extremely surprised to find that the brain can accept an invisible hand as part of the body."