Introduction: Virtual Reality and the brain-body relationship

Mel Slater

In virtual reality ideally all perception is from the computer generated world. You can use your body for perception much as in physical reality, and the greater the affordances for perception in virtual reality match those of physical reality, the more likely you are to have the illusion of being in the virtual place. What happens when you look down towards your own body? If it has been so programmed you will see a life-sized virtual body substituting your own. Using real-time motion capture the body can be programmed to move synchronously and in correspondence with your actual movements. This typically gives rise to the illusion of ownership over the virtual body, irrespective of how that body looks in comparison to your real body (for example, it may look younger, older, fatter, thinner, depict a different race or sex). It has been found that the type of body influences physiology, behaviour, attitudes and even cognition. If the switch to the virtual body can so rapidly alter apparently stable attributes of a person, then this suggests that the body representation is highly plastic, and that the ‘self’ is highly malleable, that as well as the ‘body’ needing a brain, the brain is highly influenced by the body. Very similar techniques can be used to embody people in robotic rather than virtual bodies, and examples will be given.