My virtual hand: Does body ownership over an avatar enhance motor performance?

In virtual training environments, motor tasks are usually performed with a visual representation of the own body, i.e. an avatar. This may trick the brain and induce a sense of body ownership over the avatar, i.e. the avatar is experienced as belonging to the own body. Importantly, body ownership and the motor system share neural correlates. Therefore, increasing body ownership during training may enhance motor performance and learning. However, to date, less is known about the functionality of this anatomical coupling.

The aim of this project is to investigate the effect of body ownership over an avatar on motor performance in virtual training environments using immersive virtual reality (IVR). Participants perform a motor decision-making (pressing a button as fast as possible) and tracking task (following the trajectory of a moving target). We modulate body ownership during motor tasks through congruent versus incongruent multisensory information (e.g. a brush stroking the fingers of the real and virtual hand) and/or visuo-motor synchronies (e.g. the virtual limb is moving accordingly to the real limb). The subjective experienced level of body ownership is assessed using questionnaires. To assess objective level of body ownership we record galvanic skin response (GSR). High versus low body ownership may be captured by an increased skin conductance reflecting arousal of the autonomous nervous system when the avatar is opposed to an unexpected threat (e.g. a knife). Reaction times and motor performance variables (i.e. accuracy and task completion time) will be compared across conditions (e.g. level of embodiment).