Friday, 9 November 2012

New Illusion

Haika was the guinea pig for our latest bit of fun research, although you see from the way her expression changes at the end of the video that she didn't find it all quite as much fun as we did. You'll have to forgive the shaky hand on the camera, but Tasha couldn't stop laughing while filming. We'll explain more about the illusion another time, but it's all part of the grand plan to work out exactly what we can do to change and mould body representations.

Post by Dr. Roger Newport

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The new MIRAGE100 goes to the Netherlands

This is Haika from Utrecht. She and Alyanne visited the lab in Nottingham to get some training and to pick up their new system, the MIRAGE100 - faster than before with only a 10ms delay between image capture and display. They loved all the illusions and even came up with a couple of their own. Next week we'll post a video of Haika's reaction to one of our latest creations.

Friday, 12 October 2012

World Arthritis Day 2012

Today, Friday 12 October, is World Arthritis Day. The event is designed to raise awareness of rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases. Millions of people around the world suffer from such diseases, so events like this are really important. Hopefully research into chronic pain conditions such as arthritis will continue to make progress to help improve treatment and pain management.

Link: World Arthritis Day Homepage

Congratulations Dr. Kirsten McKenzie

We would like to congratulate Dr. Kirsten McKenzie (MIRAGE lab Malayisa Campus) and husband Richard Fender on the birth of their baby boy. Rylan James McKenzie Fender was born in Malaysia just three weeks ago. He is doing really well, is incredibly cute, and surely a cognitive neuroscientist in the making?

Friday, 29 June 2012

June Quarterly Illusion - The Supernumerary Limb Illusion

‘Supernumerary’ means more than the usual number and in this simple illusion we decided to give people an extra arm. We have used our supernumerary limb illusion in several of our MIRAGE experiments (Newport et al. 2010, Newport and Preston 2011, Preston and Newport 2011a, Preston and Newport 2011b) and use it to instantly alter perception of the body.

Participants put their right or left hand into the illusion box and instead of seeing just one arm they see two. The two images of the hand can be positioned either with both images slightly offset to either side of the actual hand (as in Newport et al. 2010, Preston and Newport 2011a and b), or one image can be in the same location as the real hand with the other offset to one side (Newport and Preston 2010).

We usually then ask people to tap their finger up and down or to stroke a brush tip. When they see their hands move, we can either have both hands move together at the same time, or add a slight delay to one of them. When asked to identify which of the seen hands feels like their real hand, participants will nearly always go for the one moving in time with their real hand. The match between the planned movement and the timing of the seen movement creates a strong and immediate sense of ownership over the hand that moves in time (what we call the synchronous condition). We can then control feelings of ownership by manipulating which image moves in time with the real limb by swapping the delay from one hand to the other. The sense of movement (and hand) ownership instantly switches from the hand that used to be moving in time to the hand that is now moving in time. This strong feeling of ownership can then be instantly transferred to the other hand by swapping which of the images is synchronous... and back again…and again….and again! We could do this all day if we wanted to because the feeling of ownership does not seem to reduce regardless of the number of times it is transferred from one hand to the other, although this is a weird experience for the participant. Another weird experience occurs if we make both hands synchronous with the real hand simultaneously. Then participants claim ownership over both hands at the same time claiming that they have two right hands!

The transfer of ownership (and owning an extra limb) is a good illustration of how flexible our brains are in updating the representation of the body. This can help to inform us about the healthy brain, but also in understanding clinical populations when body ownership is disturbed.

Video of a participant experiencing The supernumerary limb illusion

Monday, 21 May 2012

Helen's trip to Australia

I have had the privilege of spending the last month working in Lorimer Moseley’s Body In Mind lab in Adelaide. After recovering from the 34 hour flight, the jet lag and FINALLY being able to make a decent cup of tea, I thought I would take the opportunity to share some of my experiences with you (and believe me, there were many!). Aside from the obvious highlights of hugging a koala and exploring in great depth the Adelaide Hills wine region (twice), the experience I gained from working in the Body In Mind lab was invaluable. While I was there, I learnt to use a laser to induce experimental pain in healthy participants, and was involved in a study looking at factors that can change pain thresholds. This was a new angle of research for me, as I have previously only been involved in research into chronic pain rather than experimentally induced pain. It was interesting to gain some insight into how the study of experimental pain might add to research into chronic pain to tell us more about the experience of pain as a whole.

 Helen in the illusions room NOI conference, 2012
I also gained experience using a thermal imaging camera which will be a very useful addition to some of our future research using MIRAGE. Disruptions in skin temperature regulation often accompany the disruptions in body ownership seen in various neurological and psychological conditions such as asomatognosia (loss of awareness of a limb), schizophrenia, and Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome Type 1. Research has also shown that experimentally induced disownership of a limb is closely linked to limb-specific temperature regulation (Moseley et al. 2008). It would therefore be useful to see how temperature is affected when the normal representation of the body is disrupted in healthy participants using some of our multisensory illusions. In particular, I have been piloting to see what effect the disappearing hand trick has on skin temperature in the ‘disappeared’ hand. 
 Dr. Tasha Stanton and others setting up the Illusions room
My trip to Australia conveniently coincided with the NOI Neurodynamics and the Neuromatrix conference 2012. This was an amazing event, and it was great to see so many clinicians and scientists coming together to try to better understand and treat chronic pain. Throughout my trip I worked with Dr. Tasha Stanton to train up three physiotherapy students to use MIRAGE so they could demonstrate it in the ‘Illusions Room’ at the conference. It went down better than we ever could have hoped, with 45 minute queues to have a go on MIRAGE! There were also a number of people with osteoarthritis who said that the stretching illusion alleviated their pain – one of whom was completely unaware of our ongoing research into the pain relieving benefits of MIRAGE. All in all, the Illusions room was a fantastic success, so thanks very much to Andrew Zacharia, Adrian Primerano, and Kris Krotiris, the physio students responsible for making the whole event brilliant. Along with the rest of the Body In Mind team, I also took part in the Ride for Pain - a community bike ride organised by Lorimer Moseley to help raise awareness about chronic pain. It was a great day, with over 550 riders showing their support. I’m ashamed to admit I opted for the 35km beach ride, while most of the rest of the team completed the gruelling 100km ride through the Adelaide Hills. They all did so well, and if I manage to make it out for next year’s ride I will most definitely be going all the way!
 Riders from the "Ride for Pain" community cycle ride.
The trip was such an exciting opportunity and it was great to work with such brilliant and passionate researchers. It has given me so many ideas of where to take my future research, and is hopefully just the start of some exciting future collaborations.

Written by Helen Gilpin

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Disappearing Hand Trick Wins Illusion of the Year 2012

We are pleased to announce the fantastic news that the Disappearing Hand Trick won first prize in the Illusion of the year competition last night at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts, Naples, Florida. More to follow on this amazing evening when Roger gets back to England.

The disappearing hand Trick

For further details about the awards and the other nominees follow this link to view the competition website or New Scientist TV

Also check out one of our other illusions by following the links below

Monday, 30 April 2012

Just another illusion box

The smallest man in the world tries out the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus’ new MIRAGE, delivered and installed in person by Roger last week (it’s all in the service you know). The Malaysia version has a secret new component, making it suitable for certain kinds of brain imaging. More on that when the experiments are finished... Meanwhile, Helen has been using MIRAGE in Australia so hopefully we’ll have some pictures from that soon.

Written by Dr. Roger Newport

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Thinking Outside the Box

The latest MIRAGE publication, which has just come out in Perception (Link), takes MIRAGE technology out of its box allowing us to stretch the whole arm opposed to just the hand a wrist, as well as viewing the body from 3rd person perspective. This opens up possibilities for many new illusions incorporating the whole body. So watch this space!

The arm stretching illusion
Figure adapted from Preston and Newport (2012) published in Perception.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Malaysia Grant Success.

Dr Kirsten McKenzie, from the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, has just been awarded a grant from Malaysia’s Ministry of Science Technology and Innovation to investigate somatosensory disorders and bodily misperceptions.

When we feel a sensation, such as pain, we assume it is caused by something happening to or within out body, but - there are many clinical cases in which an individual’s somatic experience is found to be a misrepresentation of bodily events. Most of the time our misperceptions are not a problem, and we are not aware that they have happened, but they can become problematic if, for example, we interpret normal bodily sensations as discomfort or pain.

Mistakes or misperceptions of bodily events are often associated with what are called Medically Unexplained Symptoms (MUS); situations in which patients experience what feels like very real pain or disability, but has no physical cause, and it has been suggested that MUS may account for up to a third of all visits to health-care providers. In this situation, it seems that there may be something wrong with the way the brain interprets information coming from the senses, but as yet very little is known about the processes underlying the development and maintenance of these misperceptions.

This study, which begins later this month, will use several new techniques, including the MIRAGE virtual-reality system in conjunction with Electroencephalography (EEG) to investigate when and how these illusory sensations are interpreted in the brain.

We are particularly interested in the time-course of these illusions. Whether these illusory sensations are generated at an early sensory processing stage, or at a later decision making stage will have a great influence upon both the understanding of sensory processing, and possible treatment options for MUS and somatosensory disorders.

Written by Dr. Kirsten McKenzie

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

From Box Files to the British Science Festival: Part Four

I’ve been reminded (several times) that I haven’t updated this for a while, so here, at last, is Part 4 of Box Files to British Science Festival.

Part 4:

Mark 3 fell down like a three year old child’s tower of bricks and we realised that my incompetence with a saw was no match for years of experience with slow-grown Swedish pine. The trip to IKEA bought us Mark 4, which consisted of a bookcase frame that we hoped wouldn’t fall down quite so easily as my previous efforts. We also replaced the projector hanging from the ceiling with a large 28 inch imac computer, which was a bit of a nightmare to begin with because it meant that anything we tried to do on the screen was upside down and back to front (due to having to view everything in the mirror). At the same time, the School of Psychology very kindly took a punt on me and gave me enough money to buy a proper camera, one that could take images at 60 frames a second and feed them straight into the computer. This, coupled with a software upgrade, finally allowed me to do what I’d dreamt of all along: take live video feed of the real hand, present it in the same place as the real hand, and then add left or rightward shifts to its visual location. The IKEA bookshelf was starting to get a bit wobbly by this time, due both to the weight of the imac computer and me banging my head against it in frustration at having to work upside down. So, when I saw an old workshop cabinet about to be skipped, I took it along to one of the techies and asked him to modify it for me. This he did with the aid of a size 10 boot that he used simply to kick the back off. ‘There you go’, he said, ‘That should do it.’ And it did. Mark 5 was born: the first proper prototype MIRAGE which still lives under a desk in the lab as a safe place to crawl in an earthquake. I have a soft sport for Mark 5: not only was it indestructible, but it also triggered the realisation that I’d been making the wrong thing all along.

Next time:
Next time: MIRAGE, Multisensory illusions, Manchester, Mark 6 and the Media.

Written by Dr. Roger Newport

Monday, 19 March 2012

Lab updates

Latest Project Finishes

Our most recent finger stretching arthritis project (funded by the Dunhill Medical Trust) has come to an end so we would like to thank all the people that took part for us. We’re still ploughing through all the data, but we can tell you that the results, overall, look pretty similar to last time with pain being reduced in around 3/4 of those with arthritic pain in their hands. We’ll keep you posted, so keep checking back for updates.

Image of a patient's hand being stretched

Helen to stay in the lab

In additional news - we received some fantastic news last week that Helen Gilpin, our hard-working researcher for the latest arthritis project, has been granted a Ph.D. studentship at Nottingham so that she can continue her research over the next three years, starting in September. This is great news for the lab as it means that we can start testing some of our new illusions as well as continuing our research into the mechanisms behind different kinds of pain.

Coming Soon! Part 4 of From Box Files to the British Science Festival and the Spring Quarterly Illusion...Supernunerary Limbs.

Friday, 16 March 2012

MIRAGE finally arrives in Australia!

Only a month after eventually remembering to pick up the package, Excess Baggage have finally delivered MIRAGE to Tasha in Australia. We haven’t heard whether it’s arrived in one piece yet, but here’s hoping that we’ll soon be reading about some new great illusions and experiments from their lab.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

MIRAGE lab Australia

Dr. Tasha Stanton from the Neuroscience Research Australia group has been visiting the MIRAGE lab in Nottingham for the last 3 weeks. The aim of her visit was to learn how to use MIRAGE before taking one back to Australia with her. This picture was taken at the UCAS open day held at Nottingham yesterday (15/02/12) where she was demonstrating the illusions to prospective students and their families. The best way to learn how to use MIRAGE properly is to be thrown into a live public demo. She did brilliantly.

Tasha Stanton from the Neuroscience Research Australia at the University of Nottingham UCAS open day

Monday, 6 February 2012

From Box Files to the British Science Festival: Part Three

Here is the much await third part of the story of the making of MIRAGE:

Recall that I had solved the problem of having a small cursor appear in the same place as the hand and have the cursor move about independently of it, but I had not solved the problem of the cursor looking nothing like a hand. There were several ways in which I could have addressed this issue and, after careful consideration, I went for the easy option. I took a picture of a passing Ph.D. student’s hand (Catherine Preston) and simply replaced the cursor with this picture. Now, I had a life-sized hand moving about in what appeared to be the same place as the subject’s real hand. It was not their real hand (and it only ever fooled one person) and I was stuck with a female hand, but it was a hand, nevertheless. This set up was used in a Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) study investigating agency attribution (distinguishing between self generated action and action generated by other agents) and the right hemisphere (Preston and Newport 2008, published in SCAN).

Hand image used for this version of MIRAGE

The surrounding framework had also moved on, from box files and blu-tack to a homemade wooden structure. It would have cost me almost a thousand pounds to have a proper one built, but I didn’t have any research money, so I ignored all health and safety procedures and decided to build my own. I did most of this in secret, using the cover of students waiting noisily for a lecture in the corridor to drown out the noise of sawing and hammering. It was only after I nearly cut my own ear off with a power tool that I decided to tell anyone what I was up to, just in case I went missing for a few days and no-one thought to investigate the spreading pool of blood seeping out from under the lab door. Unfortunately, my woodworking skills were only as good as my Grade C O-level and the whole thing came tumbling down on a patient that Catherine was testing. At that stage, we decided to do things properly – and went to IKEA.

Next Time: IKEA, a boot, technological advancements and the first idea of what I might have inadvertently created.

Post written by Dr. Roger Newport

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Winter Illusion - The Disappearing Hand Trick

This month’s illusion, the disappearing hand trick, is exactly what it says it is - an illusion that makes your hand disappear. It works on the principle that if we can be made to feel like a fake hand is belongs to our body or that our finger is really stretching using multisensory integration (matching of vision and touch) then by using multisensory disintegration we can make our real limb seem to disappear.

Participants place both hands in MIRAGE so that they are hovering just above the tabletop. Blue bars then appear that gradually close in on the hands over about 25 seconds. The participant's only task at this point is to keep their hands within the blue bars.

Participant trying to avoid the blue bars.

What is actually happening here is that the images of the hands move very slowly inwards so that to keep their hands still the participant must move their hands ever so slowly outwards - so slowly that the don't know they are doing it (for full details on the experimental procedure see the supplementary material from the published article - Multisensory disintegration and the disappearing hand trick, Current Biology). After 25 seconds the hands are placed down on the tabletop and then the image of the right hand disappears along with the blue bars.

At this point the participant does not feel like their hand has actually disappeared, although all that they can see is the table where their hand used to be, but then they are asked to reach over with the left hand and touch their disappeared right hand.

We believe vision more than our body position sense (proprioception) so the the participant thinks their hand is where they last saw it, Because their hands are actually further away than they realise, when they reach to where they think their other hand is - it is no longer there and seems to have disappeared. It is this failure to touch the right hand with their left hand that is key to multisensory disintegration and the experience that the hand has actually gone.

The illusion is so effective that most people show some kind of stunned or amused reaction and some even pull their hands out to check they still have them both!
This video shows what the volunteer sees during the illusion.

This video shows a volunteer reaction to her disappeared hand. Note that her reaction is elicited at the moment that she reaches for her right hand but does not find it.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Looking ahead to 2012

Well this is the first blog of 2012 and this year we hope to have another very productive year in the MIRAGE lab, finishing the arthritis grant sponsored by Dunhill medical trust, getting a new branch of the lab up and running in Malaysia as well as the day to day body/ action representation research. 

Our quarterly illusion posts will continue with the Winter illusion (disappearing hand trick) in the next few days and of course the continuation of the "From Box Files to the British Science Festival" posts explaining how and why the MIRAGE began.

At the end of last east year Roger appeared on Health show talking about our arthritis research, if you missed it then however, you can still watch now thanks to Watch the video below or download your own copy from this link:

Roger explaining about our arthritis pain research on the Health Show. 
Video provided by