By Phoebe Weston
For centuries, people across the world have claimed to experience strange ‘out of body’ experiences.
And new research shows for the first time that these phenomena can happen to children as young as six.
Far from being something to fear, the new study indicates that this is an important part of young people developing their ‘sense of self’.
Children aged six to 10, as well as adults, took part in an experiment that created a full body illusion, causing them to dissociate themselves from their bodies.
The research, which is published in the journal Developmental Science shows that these virtual experiences are crucial in developing our ‘sense of self’.
The participants viewed their own ‘virtual’ bodies for two minutes through virtual reality goggles, while their backs were stroked.
The video images were fed to the goggles by a camera placed two metres behind them.
Seeing a touch on a virtual body while being touched at the same time created the illusion that one’s self is closer to the virtual body and further away from one’s own.
It also induces a stronger feeling of ownership for the virtual body, for example the feeling that the virtual body is ‘my body’.
The scientists found that six-year-olds reported sensations of identifying the virtual body as their own.
And children as young as eight even reported being able to feel touch on the virtual body.
As the effects on both self-identification and touch referral became stronger with age, the study suggests that the basic ‘sense of self’ develops significantly during childhood.
The study was carried out by researchers from Anglia Ruskin, Durham University and Goldsmiths University.
Dr Dorothy Cowie, Assistant Professor at Durham University, said: ‘This study shows how powerful multisensory information is for children in understanding their own bodies.
‘It also provides a striking demonstration of protracted development in the sensory foundations of the bodily self.
‘As age increased, so too did the link between visual and touch synchronous, and self-identification with the virtual body.’
Most people who claim to have had an out-of-body experience have been close to sleep in a lucid-dream state, or following severe physical trauma where they have a near death experience.
Others claim to have had such experiences after taking hallucinogenic drugs or mushrooms.
Dr Jane Aspell, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, said: ‘This study shows the promise of using virtual technologies with children.
‘For the first time we have been able to measure children’s presence in a virtual environment. The more presence you experience in a virtual reality situation, the more real it seems.
‘Through commercially available systems such as the Oculus Rift, there is now a greater opportunity to use virtual reality within education as well as computer games.
‘Recent work with adults has shown that virtual environments can be useful tools for helping with rehabilitation, therapies and understanding social interactions, for example in reducing implicit racial bias or simulating dangerous situations in a safe environment.’
Read more: doi.org/10.1111/…
This article (Children as young as six have out of body experiences) was originally published on WEBSITE and syndicated by The Event Chronicle.