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Moving a Rubber Hand That Feels Like Your Own: A Dissociation of Ownership and Agency

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Moving a Rubber Hand That Feels Like Your Own: A Dissociation of Ownership and Agency

Andreas Kalckert et al. Front Hum Neurosci.

Abstract

During voluntary hand movement, we sense that we generate the movement and that the hand is a part of our body. These feelings of control over bodily actions, or the sense of agency, and the ownership of body parts are two fundamental aspects of the way we consciously experience our bodies. However, little is known about how these processes are functionally linked. Here, we introduce a version of the rubber hand illusion in which participants control the movements of the index finger of a model hand, which is in full view, by moving their own right index finger. We demonstrated that voluntary finger movements elicit a robust illusion of owning the rubber hand and that the senses of ownership and agency over the model hand can be dissociated. We systematically varied the relative timing of the finger movements (synchronous versus asynchronous), the mode of movement (active versus passive), and the position of the model hand (anatomically congruent versus incongruent positions). Importantly, asynchrony eliminated both ownership and agency, passive movements abolished the sense of agency but left ownership intact, and incongruent positioning of the model hand diminished ownership but did not eliminate agency. These findings provide evidence for a double dissociation of ownership and agency, suggesting that they represent distinct cognitive processes. Interestingly, we also noted that the sense of agency was stronger when the hand was perceived to be a part of the body, and only in this condition did we observe a significant correlation between the subjects' ratings of agency and ownership. We discuss this in the context of possible differences between agency over owned body parts and agency over actions that involve interactions with external objects. In summary, the results obtained in this study using a simple moving rubber hand illusion paradigm extend previous findings on the experience of ownership and agency and shed new light on their relationship.

Keywords: body perception; multisensory integration; rubber hand illusion; self-recognition; sense of agency; sense of ownership; volition; voluntary movement.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
(A) The setup used to induce the moving rubber hand illusion. The participant placed his right hand wearing a latex glove into the box. A wooden model hand wearing an identical latex glove was placed on top of the box. A blanket covered the space from the participant’s right shoulder to the right wrist of the model hand. The index fingers of the participant’s hand and the model hand were mechanically connected by a rod attached to two small plastic rings on the index fingers. (B) The proprioceptive drift measure. With eyes closed, the participants indicated where they felt their right index finger was located by moving their left index finger to the corresponding location on the board.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Questionnaire data showing the average ownership and agency ratings on a 7-point Likert scale. The senses of ownership and agency were present (both > 1) in the synchronous condition but not in the asynchronous condition. The ownership and agency statement scores (the means of the four statements related to ownership and agency, respectively) were significantly greater than their respective control statements in the synchronous condition. Additionally, both the ownership and agency statement scores were greater in the synchronous than asynchronous condition (see Experiment 1: Questionnaire results for the synchronous versus asynchronous movements). **p < .01; ***p < .001.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Results of the proprioceptive drift measurement. In the synchronous condition, the pointing responses indicated that the participants estimated that their right hand was closer to the model hand (upward drift of 1.73 cm). This effect was not observed in the asynchronous condition (see Experiment 2: Proprioceptive drift during synchronous and asynchronous active movements).
Figure 4
Figure 4
Correlation analysis between proprioceptive drift and the ownership and agency ratings in the synchronous and asynchronous conditions. As expected, the proprioceptive drift was correlated with the level of ownership (p < 0.05) but not with the level of agency (n.s.).
Figure 5
Figure 5
Questionnaire data showing the mean ratings in the four conditions. The mode of movement (active versus passive) and the position (congruent versus incongruent) were varied. A sense of both ownership and agency was observed in the active congruent condition. In the passive congruent condition, participants experienced ownership only, whereas in the active incongruent condition, only agency was experienced. In the passive incongruent condition, neither ownership nor agency was experienced (see Experiment 3: Questionnaire data for the active/passive and congruent/incongruent movements). **p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001.
Figure 6
Figure 6
Plots showing the correlations between the ownership and agency statement scores. These scores were significantly correlated only in the active congruent condition (r = 0.503, p = 0.003).
Figure 7
Figure 7
Proprioceptive drift in the four conditions of Experiment 3. A significant proprioceptive drift in the perceived location of the right hand toward the model hand was observed in the two conditions in which the model hand was placed in the anatomically congruent position to elicit the ownership illusion (effect of position (F[1,31] = 7.878, p < 0.01), but the mode of movement did not have a significant effect (effect of mode (F[1,31] = 0.144, p = 0.707); see Experiment 4: Proprioceptive drift for the active–passive and congruent–incongruent movements).

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