The Science

For a broader scientific description of the concepts discussed in this page, see the following paper:

Up to now Virtual Reality (VR) has been used to simulate external reality, that is, to make people feel ‘real’ what is actually not really there (i.e., environment). Current applications of VR range from flight simulation to mock-up development to surgical training. 

Just like any other object in the world, our body is arguably an object of perception. Yet, at the same time, our body is ever-present providing the background conditions that enable perception and action. Thus, our body is not simply an object like any other but it has a special status (Aspell, Lenggenhager et al. 2012): it is closely associated to our sense of self (Bodily Self-Consciousness - BSC), it is perceived in a multisensory way:
  • from the outside (Exteroception, the body perceived through the senses) as well as,
  • from within (Inner Body, including Interoception, the sense of the physiological condition of the body, Proprioception, the sense of the position of the body/body segments, and Vestibular Input, the sense of motion of the body), and it provides the spatial frame within which action and perception take place.
More, according to recent studies damage, malfunctioning or altered feedback from and toward the brain circuits modelling and generating BSC influence human homeostasis and well-being (Brugger & Lenggenhager, 2014; Tsakiris & Critchley, 2016).

But how can we use technology to modify our bodily experience? Its contents are adjusted on the basis of the (dis)agreement between the actual sensory activity and the expected inputs generated through predictive multisensory integration (Allen et al., 2016). If the level of surprise is high enough, the internal body representation needs to update its internal models to predict future events effectively (O'Reilly et al., 2013). Following this view, a possible way to correct a dysfunctional representation of the body, is the use of technologies for inducing a controlled mismatch between the predicted/dysfunctional model and the actual sensory input able to improve the old model (Riva 2016Riva et al, in press). 

Several studies clearly demonstrate (e.g. Costantini 2014, Dieguez & Lopez, 2016) that is surprisingly easy to use technology to alter BSC and its contents using exteroceptive signals (e.g., during a rubber hand illusion or a VR-based body swapping experience). However, at the moment no available technology is able to modulate/simulate the inner body signals with the same level of realism available for exteroception. 

Discover what is the Rubber Hand Illusion...

Pioneering neuroscience experiments demonstrate not only the role that the Inner Body plays in high-end cognitive processes such as motivation, emotion, social cognition and self-awareness (Tsakiris 2015, 2016, 2017), but also that it exerts a top-down modulation over basic physiological mechanisms such as thermoregulatory control (Gallace 2014; Macauda et al, 2014). Further work highlights (Costantini 2014, 2015, 2015b, 2016; Scarpina et al, 2016) the existence of biochemical mechanisms accounting for the dependency of multisensory integration and the Inner Body upon the immune system

As suggested by Tsakiris, 2017 and Riva et al, in pressto obtain clinically relevant changes (i.e., able to induce a long-term effect) on BSC technology needs to modify the Inner Body, too (Suzuki et al, 2013Seth et al, 2011). 

At the moment no available technology is able to modulate/simulate the inner body signals with the same level of realism available for exteroception. Here we suggest that the possible solution to all these problems is Sonoception.

For further info, check also these papers:

The Technology