The approach combines virtual reality and artificial tactile sensations. (Credit: SSSA/Rossini)

Scientists have shown that amputees can actually be convinced that the prosthetic hand belongs to their own body. They do this by going beyond the “seeing is believing” idiom based on established research on how the brain identifies what belongs to its own body. Instead of using the sense of sight alone, they used an astute combination of two senses: sight and touch.

In two-hand amputees, the scientists provided artificial tactile sensations at the tip of the index finger — of the phantom limb — by stimulating the patient’s nerve in the stump. At the same time, the patient wore virtual reality goggles that showed the index finger of the prosthetic limb glowing in synchrony with the administered touch sensations. This combination of virtual reality with artificial tactile sensations takes the rubber-hand illusion to another level.

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