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Journal ArticleDOI

Changing bodies changes minds: owning another body affects social cognition

01 Jan 2015-Trends in Cognitive Sciences (Trends Cogn Sci)-Vol. 19, Iss: 1, pp 6-12

TL;DR: This work proposes that changes in implicit social bias occur via a process of self association that first takes place in the physical, bodily domain as an increase in perceived physical similarity between self and outgroup member, leading to a generalization of positive self-like associations to the outgroup.

AbstractResearch on stereotypes demonstrates how existing prejudice affects the way we process outgroups. Recent studies have considered whether it is possible to change our implicit social bias by experimentally changing the relationship between the self and outgroups. In a number of experimental studies, participants have been exposed to bodily illusions that induced ownership over a body different to their own with respect to gender, age, or race. Ownership of an outgroup body has been found to be associated with a significant reduction in implicit biases against that outgroup. We propose that these changes occur via a process of self association that first takes place in the physical, bodily domain as an increase in perceived physical similarity between self and outgroup member. This self association then extends to the conceptual domain, leading to a generalization of positive self-like associations to the outgroup.

Topics: Outgroup (64%), Out-group homogeneity (62%), Ingroups and outgroups (60%), Implicit attitude (57%), Social cognition (51%)

Summary (4 min read)

Body representations of self and other.

  • Embodied accounts of social cognition suggest that the way in which the authors perceive others' bodies in relation to their own plays a crucial role in sociocognitive processing [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] .
  • The perception of bodily states in others can activate similar bodily states in the self, and this is taken as evidence that their representations of their own bodies and those of others can partially overlap.
  • Until recently, research in this area has focused on how existing social bias and prejudice affect the way the authors process outgroup members [3] [4] [5] [6] , rather than investigating the potential malleability of their ingroup/outgroup classifications.
  • Taken together, the findings show that changes in the mental representation of one's own body affect the perceived similarity between one's own body and that of an outgroup, resulting in significant changes in implicit biases.
  • The authors here present a possible mechanism underlying these changes, which has far-reaching implications for their understanding of the development and malleability of social attitudes, and the crucial role of basic body representations in these processes.

Racial Biases in Brain, Behaviour and the Body

  • A rapidly growing literature suggests that the body is central to their understanding of others.
  • Evidence now suggests that this bodily resonance (see Glossary) can afford us a unique, first-person understanding of the experiences of others and is central to a number of social processes [7] including intention understanding [19] , empathy [20] , and emotion recognition [21] .
  • Importantly, recent studies have revealed that social group categorisation, such as that based on racial group membership, can have a strong impact on the extent to which the authors resonate with others' bodily states.
  • Furthermore, this diminished neural resonance with the racial outgroup has been found to directly correlate with participants' negative implicit racial biases [3] .

From body ownership to social cognition: Constraints and consequences

  • These successful manipulations aptly demonstrated the malleability of the mental representation of one's body and identity.
  • Furthermore, in the case where the different body depicted an outgroup person, the acquired ownership did not depend on pre-existing levels of implicit outgroup bias; participants experienced ownership over another's body regardless of their levels of negative implicit attitudes towards the other's social group [13] .
  • The experimental modulation of body ownership was found to have a number of intriguing effects on social cognition.
  • After synchronous multisensory stimulation on the face (see Enfacement Illusion, Box 1), participants rated the other's face as more attractive, more physically similar to their own, and they were also more likely to conform to the other's opinions [33] .

Changing your body changes your mind

  • The question of whether these changes could affect implicit biases against outgroups remained unanswered.
  • The more intense the participants' illusion of ownership over the dark-skinned rubber hand, the more positive their implicit racial attitudes became.
  • Importantly, such changes in body ownership to incorporate an outgroup body also increase 'bodily resonance' with that outgroup.
  • Results showed that the experience of body ownership over the outgroup member's face had increased the Visual Remapping of Touch effect up to the level normally associated with a same-race individual.
  • Embodying an avatar representing a 4-year-old child resulted in a bias towards associating the self with child-like compared to adult-like categorizations, as measured using an IAT.

Illusions of self-resemblance may cause a generalisation of self-like associations to an outgroup

  • The first relevant finding to support their argument is that experimentally induced modulations of body ownership enhance perceived physical similarity between self and other.
  • The authors suggest that this increased perceptual similarity between oneself and an outgroup member leads to a new association being formed between the self-concept and that outgroup.
  • For this to occur, two processes are necessary.
  • In support of this, the classical conditioning literature has long posited that associative learning of likes and dislikes are based on perceptual similarity, and that this can occur outside of awareness [39, 40] .

Concluding Remarks

  • Overall, an intriguing and consistent pattern of results has emerged from independent research groups, whereby changes in the experience of ownership over an outgroup body of different race results in significant reductions of the levels of implicit bias against that outgroup .
  • Taken together, these findings suggest that changes in the perceived similarity between self and others, caused by shared multisensory experiences, might 'bridge the gap' between the basic, perceptual representation of bodies, and the complex social mechanisms underlying much of their everyday social interaction.
  • An important next step would be to investigate if this increased resonance extends to other domains, e.g., the motor domain, where it could have important consequences for key social processes [7] .
  • These recent findings also lead us to new insights into how implicit social biases are formed and maintained.

Glossary

  • The process by which the perception of bodily states in others can activate similar bodily states in the self [5, 17, 18] .
  • This process is thought to be central to a number of fundamental social processes including empathy, action understanding and emotion recognition.
  • This can be measured at the neural level, for example by recording activity in the premotor cortex when observing other-performed actions [17] , or behaviourally, for example by measuring the increase in a participant's tactile sensitivity caused by observing another being touched [5] .
  • Body ownership refers to the special perceptual status of one's own body, which makes bodily sensations seem unique to oneself, that is, the feeling that ''my body'' belongs to me, and is ever present in my mental life [16, 45], also known as Body ownership.

Implicit association task (IAT):

  • The IAT is a computerised task which involves a rapid categorisation of verbal stimuli, pictorial stimuli, or both.
  • Analysis of the patterns of response times and errors provides a metric of implicit associations between categories.
  • Commonly, the associations measured are between a social category, e.g., a specific racial group, and positive versus negative associations, to provide a measure of bias in implicit evaluative attitudes.
  • Implicit biases measured using this method have been found to be internally consistent, reliable and predictive of explicit behaviours [15] .
  • A multidimensional construct, comprising a collection of knowledge structures regarding one's attitudes, dispositions, skills and abilities, which are temporally stable and transsituational [46], also known as Self -concept.

Rubber Hand Illusion (RHI)

  • Watching a rubber hand being stroked synchronously with one's own unseen hand causes the rubber hand to be attributed to one's own body, to "feel like it's my hand" [22] .
  • This synchronous stimulation not only elicits a subjective experience of ownership over the hand, but also causes the perceived location of one's own hand to drift towards the rubber hand [47] and a stress-evoked skin conductance response to be elicited when the rubber hand is threatened [48] .
  • The illusion of ownership over the rubber hand does not occur when the rubber hand is stroked asynchronously with respect to the subject's own hand, and thus experiments investigating body ownership commonly use asynchronous stimulation as a control condition.
  • An illusion of the same intensity can be also developed over a virtual hand by either synchronous visuotactile [49] or visuomotor [50] correlations.
  • This illusion persists through radical transformations such as extensive elongation of the arm [51] or change in the virtual hand position [52] with respect to the real one.

Enfacement Illusion

  • The enfacement illusion is a facial analogue of the rubber hand illusion.
  • Participants watch a video showing the face of an unfamiliar other being stroked with a cotton bud on the cheek, while the participant receives identical stroking on their own, congruent cheek in synchrony with the touch they see.
  • As in the RHI, synchronous, but not asynchronous, visuotactile stimulation elicits illusory feelings of ownership over the other's face [53] .
  • Enfacement also influences social cognition [33, 34] and produces a measurable bias in self-face recognition, whereby participants perceive the other's face as looking more like their own [26, 35, 36] .

Full-body illusions

  • Illusory ownership over a physical manikin body that substituted the participant's real body was demonstrated in [23] .
  • Participants wear a head-tracked stereo head-mounted display which provides computer generated images immersing the participant in a virtual world.
  • The participant's own body is substituted by a virtual body, viewed from a first-person perspective, with a motion capture system so that their virtual body moves with their real body movements.
  • Light-skinned Caucasian participants took part in a between-groups experiment where they occupied a White (A) or Black (B) body in a virtual environment.
  • Must then be minimised in a similar way, by updating attitudes and beliefs held about oneself and 478 the outgroup.

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1
Changing bodies changes minds: owning another body affects social cognition
Lara Maister
1
, Mel Slater
2,3,5
, Maria V. Sanchez-Vives
4,5
, & Manos Tsakiris
1
*
1
Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey, UK
2
Faculty of Psychology, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
3
Department of Computer Science, University College London, London, UK.
4
Institut d'Investigacions Biomediques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS), Barcelona, Spain
5
Institució Catalana Recerca i Estudis Avançats (ICREA), Barcelona, Spain
*corresponding author: Tsakiris, M. (manos.tsakiris@rhul.ac.uk)
This paper is published as: Maister L, Slater M, Sanchez-Vives MV & Tsakiris M (2014).
Changing bodies changes minds: owning another body affects social cognition. Trends in
Cognitive Sciences. In press / doi:10.1016/j.tics.2014.11.001

2
Abstract
Research on stereotypes demonstrates how existing prejudice affects the way we process 1
outgroups. Recent studies have considered whether it is possible to change our implicit social bias 2
by experimentally changing the relation between the self and outgroups. In a number of 3
experimental studies, participants have been exposed to bodily illusions that induced ownership 4
over a body different to their own with respect to gender, age or race. Ownership of an outgroup 5
body has been found to be associated with a significant reduction in implicit biases against that 6
outgroup. We propose that these changes occur via a process of self-association that first takes place 7
in the physical, bodily domain as an increase in perceived physical similarity between self and 8
outgroup member. This self-association then extends to the conceptual domain, leading to a 9
generalization of positive self-like associations to the outgroup. 10
Keywords: body ownership, racial biases, implicit attitudes, social cognition, bodily illusions, 11
immersive virtual reality 12
13
Highlights 14
Multisensory correlations can induce illusory ownership of another person's body. 15
Ownership can thus be induced over a body of a different race, age, or gender. 16
Incorporating a body belonging to a social outgroup changes implicit social biases. 17
The multisensory experience of the body underpins higher-level social attitudes.
18

3
Body representations of self and other. 19
Embodied accounts of social cognition suggest that the way in which we perceive others’ 20
bodies in relation to our own plays a crucial role in sociocognitive processing [1-7]. The perception 21
of bodily states in others can activate similar bodily states in the self, and this is taken as evidence 22
that our representations of our own bodies and those of others can partially overlap. These shared 23
body representations are thought to form the fundamental basis of empathy and our understanding 24
of others’ emotions and actions. Interestingly, the activation of shared body representations is 25
modulated by whether the person being observed is an ingroup or an outgroup member. For 26
example, when we observe an individual of a different race to ourselves experiencing a specific 27
bodily state, such as touch or pain, we show a reduced sharing of that bodily state. Furthermore, this 28
reduction is modulated by our implicit social attitudes towards that racial group; the more 29
negatively biased we are against members of that race, the less overlap between our representations 30
of their bodies and our own [see below; 3-4,8]. 31
Until recently, research in this area has focused on how existing social bias and prejudice 32
affect the way we process outgroup members [3-6], rather than investigating the potential 33
malleability of our ingroup/outgroup classifications. A series of recent studies have successfully 34
filled this gap [9-14] by asking whether and how it is possible to change implicit social attitudes 35
towards outgroups [15] by experimentally increasing the sharing of body representations [16]. 36
Taken together, the findings show that changes in the mental representation of one’s own body 37
affect the perceived similarity between one’s own body and that of an outgroup, resulting in 38
significant changes in implicit biases. We here present a possible mechanism underlying these 39
changes, which has far-reaching implications for our understanding of the development and 40
malleability of social attitudes, and the crucial role of basic body representations in these processes. 41
Racial Biases in Brain, Behaviour and the Body 42

4
A rapidly growing literature suggests that the body is central to our understanding of others. 43
Neurocognitive studies into the ‘mirror neuron system’ have shown that we activate similar brain 44
regions both when we observe a bodily state in others and when we experience that bodily state 45
ourselves [17], reflecting an overlap between self and other bodily representations in the brain [18]. 46
Evidence now suggests that this bodily resonance (see Glossary) can afford us a unique, first-person 47
understanding of the experiences of others and is central to a number of social processes [7] 48
including intention understanding [19], empathy [20], and emotion recognition [21]. Importantly, 49
recent studies have revealed that social group categorisation, such as that based on racial group 50
membership, can have a strong impact on the extent to which we resonate with others’ bodily states. 51
Racial group membership is a salient distinguishing factor between individuals, and has long 52
been known to strongly impact human social behaviours and attitudes. For example, we tend to 53
show implicit biases towards members of our own race and against those of other races, even when 54
we don’t hold any explicitly biased attitudes. These implicit racial biases can be measured 55
behaviourally using an implicit association task (IAT: See Glossary [15]), but also can be seen at 56
the neural level in the form of distinct patterns of brain activity [2]. Intriguingly, bodily resonance is 57
modulated by whether the other person being observed is a member of a racial ingroup or outgroup 58
[3-8]. For example, viewing a face being touched enhances the perception of touch on one’s own 59
face, but this effect, known as the Visual Remapping of Touch, is not present when the observed 60
face belongs to a racial outgroup member [5]. In the motor domain, participants show reduced 61
vicarious activation of the motor cortex when observing actions performed by a racial outgroup 62
member as compared to an ingroup member [4,8], and show decreased neural and motor responses 63
when viewing racial outgroup members in pain [3,6]. Furthermore, this diminished neural 64
resonance with the racial outgroup has been found to directly correlate with participants’ negative 65
implicit racial biases [3]. 66
Until recently, research in this area has focussed on how bodily resonance is affected by 67
existing racial attitudes. Could this relationship, in fact, be bidirectional? In other words, could 68

5
existing racial attitudes be modulated by the experimental manipulation of shared body 69
representations? A series of recent studies has employed a range of multisensory methods to 70
manipulate body ownership and has revealed striking effects on implicit racial attitudes. 71
From body ownership to social cognition: Constraints and consequences 72
Over the last twenty years, advances in experimental psychology, cognitive neuroscience 73
and virtual reality have allowed scientists to experiment with a fundamental element of self-74
awareness, the sense of body ownership (see Glossary), using a range of bodily illusions, such as 75
the Rubber Hand Illusion [22], the Full Body Illusion [23-25] and the Enfacement Illusion [26] (see 76
Box 1 for descriptions). These successful manipulations aptly demonstrated the malleability of the 77
mental representation of one’s body and identity. 78
Having established the behavioural and neural correlates of these multisensory-induced 79
changes in body ownership, attention has turned towards the potential social constraints, as well as 80
the social consequences, of such changes. Importantly, illusions of body ownership were revealed to 81
be surprisingly impervious to social and perceptual distinctions. Several studies, using a variety of 82
methods, successfully induced a sense of body ownership over bodies of different race- [9,10,12-83
14,27, 28, 29], age- [11], size- [11,30,31,32] and gender-groups [25]. Furthermore, in the case 84
where the different body depicted an outgroup person, the acquired ownership did not depend on 85
pre-existing levels of implicit outgroup bias; participants experienced ownership over another’s 86
body regardless of their levels of negative implicit attitudes towards the other’s social group [13]. 87
This provides an interesting contrast with the findings already discussed, which show that shared 88
body representations, in the absence of experimental manipulations that prime the self-relevance of 89
the observed body, are indeed greatly influenced by factors such as racial attitudes. However, the 90
manipulations used to induce bodily illusions involve highly salient multisensory cues which are 91
strongly predictive of body ownership, and thus may override top-down modulations by social 92
attitudes [9-13]. Conversely, in the absence of these powerful multisensory cues, the effects of 93
social attitudes on bodily resonance with others may emerge. 94

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The authors propose that these changes occur via a process of self-association that first takes place 7 in the physical, bodily domain as an increase in perceived physical similarity between self and 8 outgroup member.