Owning an overweight or underweight body: Distinguishing the physical, experienced and virtual body

Ivelina V. Piryankova, Hong Yu Wong, Sally A. Linkenauger, Catherine Stinson, Matthew R. Longo, Heinrich H. Bülthoff, Betty J. Mohler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Citations (Scopus)


Our bodies are the most intimately familiar objects we encounter in our perceptual environment. Virtual reality provides a unique method to allow us to experience having a very different body from our own, thereby providing a valuable method to explore the plasticity of body representation. In this paper, we show that women can experience ownership over a whole virtual body that is considerably smaller or larger than their physical body. In order to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying body ownership, we use an embodiment questionnaire, and introduce two new behavioral response measures: an affordance estimation task (indirect measure of body size) and a body size estimation task (direct measure of body size). Interestingly, after viewing the virtual body from first person perspective, both the affordance and the body size estimation tasks indicate a change in the perception of the size of the participant's experienced body. The change is biased by the size of the virtual body (overweight or underweight). Another novel aspect of our study is that we distinguish between the physical, experienced and virtual bodies, by asking participants to provide affordance and body size estimations for each of the three bodies separately. This methodological point is important for virtual reality experiments investigating body ownership of a virtual body, because it offers a better understanding of which cues (e.g. visual, proprioceptive, memory, or a combination thereof) influence body perception, and whether the impact of these cues can vary between different setups.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0103428
JournalPloS one
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Aug 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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