Not that hand- the other hand!

A rubber hand that begins to feel real may hold secrets to body image and self-perception. Researchers had participants place one hand beside a partition, blocking it from view, while instead having a realistic looking rubber hand where the hidden hand would normally lay (see the picture). As both the real and fake hands were stimulated by touch,

...they can experience a shift in where they believe their hand is to the position of the rubber hand.

‘People experience this weird illusion,’ says Dr G Lorimer Moseley of the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at the University of Oxford. ‘They will say things like, “I feel like I own the rubber hand”.’

Dr Moseley, along with Professor Charles Spence of the Department of Experimental Psychology and researchers in Italy and The Netherlands, report in the journal PNAS that incorporating the rubber hand into our sense of self comes at a physical cost. It is as though they are ‘disowning’ the real hand, resulting in a measurable temperature drop in that hand.

Your sense of self and what you think you look like, then, isn't permanent. It's malleable, even on a relatively fast time scale.

What interested me was the temperature drop in the hand. One of the side effects of anorexia and bulimia is hypothermia and poor circulation. Could the cold feelings only be making the body dysmorphia worse? And could this help explain why "warm rooms" are becoming part of the treatment of eating disorders?

(research and photo from a press release in Science Daily)

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anon mom said...

I think warming rooms are a good idead, but I don't think the hand-substitution experiment underscores a causal connection between dysmorphia and temperature ... but that decreased hand temperature is an artifact of re-directed focus of attention.

The goal in biofeedback is to practice visualization and mindfulness for decreased stress response/increased relaxation ... measureable by finger or toe temperature (going up). This is where I see ongoing promise for treatment.

Most impressive in the hand illustration is the malleability of the mind to accept ideas. It makes one wonder if that isn't a pertinent mechanism in development and maintenance of distorted thoughts; false repressed memories; the ability to function in a body that others would experience as being in pain, uncomfortable, hungry ... I call it "living in my head" ... probably not dissimilar to dissociation experienced by PTSD patients with trauma backgrounds.

The hand study also says to me that relaxation after meals and during treatment would be beneficial, and when combined with warming rooms could ... at a minimal level ... increase comfort and feelings of well-being; decrease stress and cortisol levels; ease anxiety; and possibly enhance patients' ability to integrate coping skills, manage refeeding discomfort, and enhance the ability to "sit with" stressful/intolerant situations and one's new and emerging body.

Carrie Arnold said...


I didn't think there was a causal relationship, either. But if a disconnect from your body can lead to decreased body temperature, it does lead to an interesting hypothesis that some form of information (even if not cause/effect) goes the other way, as well.

I, too, have found meditation and relaxation helpful.

Thanks for the feedback.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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