October 21, 2015, by Emma Thorne

Give it a tug and feel it grow

Children and teenagers discovered that you can’t always believe everything you see — or feel — when they were tricked by an illusion as part of a University research project.

The study, led by academics in the School of Psychology, used a system called MIRAGE — real-time video capture of the participants’ hand and computer trickery combined with gently pulling on their index finger — to attempt to produce the sensation that the finger is being physically stretched to around twice its normal length.

The research paper, Give it a Tug and Feel it Grow: Extending Body Perception Through the Universal Nature of Illusory Finger Stretching, has been published in the academic journal i-Perception.

The results showed that out of the 593 children and adolescents aged between eight and 15 years old who took part in the study, 93 per cent reported the illusion of stretching.

Distorted body representation is experienced in many clinical disorders including chronic lower back pain, anorexia nervosa and brain damage and using experimentally-induced illusions to disrupt body perception in healthy people are a useful took in understanding how this occurs in the brain and how it might be more successfully treated.

The illusion of the finger stretching

The illusion of the finger stretching

Dr Roger Newport, who led the research, said: “Despite a lifetime with unyielding digits, finger stretching is a powerful and instantaneous demonstration that body perception is a dynamic process.

“The brain continuously constructs a perceptions of the body based on the integration of sensory signals what we have little control over, resulting in perceptual experiences that can stretch the boundaries of what we think we know about our own bodies.”

The study follows on from previous research in which the academics discovered that using the MIRAGE illusion could significantly reduce — and in some cases completely eradicate — arthritic pain in the hand.

Posted in Research newsScience