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A research project at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland is looking at the effect virtual reality has on people's perceptions of themselves and their bodies.
Professor Olaf Blanke, a neurologist at the EPFL's Brain Mind Institute, is leading the Real Avatar project to improve understanding of self-awareness through cognitive science, virtual reality and brain-imaging technology.
Subjects are immersed in the body of an avatar using a virtual-reality headset and their brain electrical activity is monitored by electrodes fitted to a skullcap, shown above, as they are exposed to different 3D environments controlled by the researchers.
The work is building on clinical studies of neurological patients who have reported out-of-body experiences. These episodes often show themselves through increased activity in the temporoparietal and frontal regions of the brain that translate touch and vision into coherent perception.
As well as the electrodes, subjects are fitted with a stereoscopic visor that puts them in a virtual world, where they interact with other avatars and experience their own avatar from a first- and third-person perspective.
For more on this ZDNet UK-selected story, see Photos: Virtual reality, avatars probe consciousness on silicon.com.
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