2022/02/09 | Research | Virtual & Augmented Reality

Virtual self-perception influences motor performance

Immersive VR may be a promising technique to promote motor activity in neurological patients, especially when the participant’s self-perception is modulated. This is the result of a study by the Motor Learning and Neurorehabilitation lab in collaboration with the Department of Neurology at the Inselspital. The team investigated how a perceived arm of stone impacts motor performance and activates motor brain networks.

Experimental setup and virtual environment. (A) Electromyographic recordings obtained from the first dorsal interosseous (FDI) muscle of the participant’s right hand and with the tracker around wrist and upper arm. (B) Participant’s first-person perspective in the VR during the multisensory feedback in the human and (C) stone condition. (https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2021.787487)

Head mounted displays (HDMs) have recently been introduced to neurorehabilitation and allow to realistically mimic the user’s body from a first-person perspective (i.e., avatar) in a highly immersive VR environment. Perceived body characteristics thereby influence how people perform actions. In an experimental setup the MLN team has studied how a “stone arm illusion” impacts the execution of movements.

Under the illusion, ten healthy study participants maintained the feeling of body ownership but rated their arm as heavier, colder, stiffer, and more insensitive than with a human arm avatar. The stronger the illusion was perceived the higher was the motor cortical excitability measured during experiment. In addition, participants initiated movements faster to compensate for the embodied body characteristics. This suggests that subtly modifying perception in an VR environment can be beneficial for motor skill recovery.