If we can have illusions about our bodies, how much more can we about our interpretations of other people?

An interesting recent study, The Marble Hand Illusion, demonstrates that by simple manipulation of perceptual input, people can be induced to change their perceptions of their own bodies.

The authors state that, “This novel bodily illusion, the ‘Marble-Hand Illusion’, demonstrates that the perceived material of our body, surely the most stable attribute of our bodily self, can be quickly updated through multisensory integration.”

The full abstract says:

Our body is made of flesh and bones. We know it, and in our daily lives all the senses constantly provide converging information about this simple, factual truth. But is this always the case? Here we report a surprising bodily illusion demonstrating that humans rapidly update their assumptions about the material qualities of their body, based on their recent multisensory perceptual experience. To induce a misperception of the material properties of the hand, we repeatedly gently hit participants’ hand with a small hammer, while progressively replacing the natural sound of the hammer against the skin with the sound of a hammer hitting a piece of marble. After five minutes, the hand started feeling stiffer, heavier, harder, less sensitive, unnatural, and showed enhanced Galvanic skin response (GSR) to threatening stimuli. Notably, such a change in skin conductivity positively correlated with changes in perceived hand stiffness. Conversely, when hammer hits and impact sounds were temporally uncorrelated, participants did not spontaneously report any changes in the perceived properties of the hand, nor did they show any modulation in GSR. In two further experiments, we ruled out that mere audio-tactile synchrony is the causal factor triggering the illusion, further demonstrating the key role of material information conveyed by impact sounds in modulating the perceived material properties of the hand. This novel bodily illusion, the ‘Marble-Hand Illusion’, demonstrates that the perceived material of our body, surely the most stable attribute of our bodily self, can be quickly updated through multisensory integration.

Note that: “After five minutes, the hand started feeling stiffer, heavier, harder, less sensitive, unnatural, and showed enhanced Galvanic skin response (GSR) to threatening stimuli.”

If people can change physical perceptions of their hands in five minutes, wouldn’t our notions of the world around us be just as susceptible to change? And wouldn’t it be good if we could change those notions to something better? Something more accurate?

FIML practice is designed to do just that by helping us regularly upgrade our understanding of what people who are important to us are actually saying, actually thinking, actually feeling. Rather than turn us into marble, FIML practice prevents us from being blockheads by acting on mistaken beliefs and interpretations about others.

FIML helps us change how we interact with people by bringing our perceptions of them closer to their impressions of what they actually have been saying or doing. This is not a trivial exercise because as we change how we understand others—and realize how often we can be mistaken—we also change ourselves, our sense of who we are and what we are doing.

Ingrained mistaken impressions of others and the behaviors that stem from them can be corrected fairly quickly through FIML practice. Just as we can be tricked into thinking our hand is made of marble as in the study above, so we can be “un-tricked” through FIML practice into realizing that even very deeply held interpretations of self and other can be seriously wrong.

Our senses of our bodies in the world depend on constant feedback with the world around us. In like manner, our senses of our hearts and minds in the world depend on constant feedback from the people around us. If our core interpretations of self and other are wrong, we will make frequent mistakes, and thus bring undue suffering to ourselves and others. If we can improve the accuracy of our core interpretations, we will improve the quality of our awareness and our capacity to interact with others.

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