Science Lab / Recipe for an Existential Crisis: The Rubber Hand Illusion

Wednesday, 12 August, 2015

In this experiment, learn to amaze your friends and lead them to the crushing realization that their self-image isn’t as stable as they probably assumed.


Step One: Sit your friend at the table and instruct them to place their hands onto the surface. They can be palms-up or palms-down.

Step Two: Obscure their view of one of their hands with the divider of your choice. They mustn’t be able to see one of their hands for this effect to work.

Step Three: Place the fake hand on the table in such a way that the participant could imagine the decoy being their actual hand. Use the sheet to further enhance this effect up the arm, so that the arm appears to flow from their shoulder and down to the hand.

Step Four: Check that the participant is comfortable and that they have their hidden hand positioned in mimicry of the false appendage.

Step Five: Begin stroking the fake hand and the participant’s hidden hand with your paintbrushes. Keep your motions fluid and as similar as possible on each hand. Continue for several minutes.

Step Six: Have your participant relay to you their sensory experience during the process. If they are looking at the false hand as you undergo your stimulation, they will begin to report feeling the strokes on the false hand, as if it is their own.

Step Seven: Have a think about just how impressive this illusion is. It has quite drastically changed your friend’s self image, albeit in a very localised region.

Step Eight: Begin to wonder whether our sense of self could be manipulated on other levels as easily as this. Would you feel responsible for the actions of the Moon if your self-image included it?

Step Nine: If you’ve developed anxiety from the heady revelations of this experiment and you’ve begun hyperventilating, use the brown paper bag to regulate your oxygen intake.