Having a body versus moving your body: How agency structures body-ownership

Conscious Cogn. 2006 Jun;15(2):423-32. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2005.09.004. Epub 2005 Dec 15.


We investigated how motor agency in the voluntary control of body movement influences body awareness. In the Rubber Hand Illusion (RHI), synchronous tactile stimulation of a rubber hand and the participant's hand leads to a feeling of the rubber hand being incorporated in the participant's own body. One quantifiable behavioural correlate of the illusion is an induced shift in the perceived location of the participant's hand towards the rubber hand. Previous studies showed that the induced changes in body awareness are local and fragmented: the proprioceptive drift is largely restricted to the stimulated finger. In the present study, we investigated whether active and passive movements, rather than tactile stimulation, would lead to similarly fragmented body awareness. Participants watched a projected image of their hand under three conditions: active finger movement, passive finger movement, and tactile stimulation. Visual feedback was either synchronous or asynchronous with respect to stimulation of the hand. A significant overall RHI, defined as greater drifts following synchronous than asynchronous stimulation, was found in all cases. However, the distribution of the RHI across stimulated and non-stimulated fingers depended on the kind of stimulation. Localised proprioceptive drifts, specific to the stimulated finger, were found for tactile and passive stimulation. Conversely, during active movement of a single digit, the proprioceptive drifts were not localised to that digit, but were spread across the whole hand. Whereas a purely proprioceptive sense of body-ownership is local and fragmented, the motor sense of agency integrates distinct body-parts into a coherent, unified awareness of the body.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Image*
  • Fingers
  • Hand
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Motor Activity*
  • Movement*
  • Touch / physiology*