ARTORG Center for Biomedical Engineering Research

Tricking the Brain: Increasing embodiment in virtual training environment to support motor learning

Project Members:  Joaquín Peñalver-Andrés, Karin Bütler, Laura Marchal-Crespo

Current trends in neurorehabilitation rely on newly developed technologies to restore motor functions, e.g. reaching movements performed with robotic support are often trained by visualizing the task in virtual reality (VR). Within the virtual training environment, the subject usually interacts via a virtual self-representation, e.g. a virtual limb. Increasing body ownership over this virtual self-representation (i.e. the feeling that the virtual limb belongs to oneself) may be a useful tool to support motor learning. Importantly, brain areas involved in body ownership overlay with brain areas linked to motor control. Previous studies suggest that this anatomical coupling might be functional, thus, increasing body ownership during training could promote brain plasticity in motor areas. However, to date, less is known about the experience of body ownership over a virtual limb during motor training and its influence on motor performance.

The main aim of this project is to “trick the human brain” and investigate 1) how to increase body ownership over a virtual limb during (robotic) motor training (e.g. using multisensory stimulation), and 2) the relationship between the level of embodiment (e.g. body ownership) and motor learning.

The gained knowledge may help to improve therapy outcomes of already exiting rehabilitation systems and could have direct implications for the recovery of activities of daily living in neurologic patients.

Keywords: embodiment, neurorehabilitation, motor learning, virtual reality, body ownership