Scientific American reports on a simple lab setup involving a video camera and a head-mounted display to generate out of body experiences.
Last year, two research groups induced out-of-body experiences in healthy participants with virtual reality techniques. The experiments, described last August in studies by H. Henri Ehrsson and Olaf Blanke and colleagues in Science, demonstrate that out-of-body experiences, previously confined to the realms of psychiatry, fiction and the occult, occur when the normal processing of sensory information is disrupted. This research provides an important tool to understand how the feeling of self is generated by the brain.
The participants wore virtual reality goggles connected to video cameras that filmed the participants' backs. Thus each participant saw his or her own body from the back … To complete the illusion, the scientists used two plastic rods to stroke synchronously, for 1 or 2 minutes at a time, the participant's back and the back of the virtual body. Next, the participants were asked to complete a questionnaire to evaluate their subjective perception of the illusion. Amazingly, they reported feeling as if they were being behind their physical bodies and looking at them from this location. The illusion failed when the stroking was asynchronous.