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The Synergy of Body & Mind

Weekly Blog No. 8, this week I have chosen to write about an article I discovered in the New Scientist 15th of October 2011 Edition.  My reasons? Well because as a gym junkie, I’m a total believer in the holistic view of mind and body working harmoniously together.  The article I read was titled “Your Clever Body” and it discusses new research and evidence, that supports that the mind does not work in isolation from the body but rather that they work together in unity.  So here’s my interpretation…….

Pause, take a chill pill relax and unwind or alternatively if your hyperactive like me, turn up the volume and get ready to burn!!!  Hee, hee either way just listen to what your body is telling you.   Are you feeling physically frazzled, do you need to sleep or are you hungry or do you need the toilet even, perhaps?   Well if so these are the types of body signals that can either help or prevent us from thinking.  In the past there has been a tendency to separate the processes and functions of the mind from the body.  Although it is now more apparent than ever that the body plays a significant role in our thought processes.  Speaking as a self-confessed gym junkie I have suspected this for many years.  After all how many of us get up in the morning ready to deal with life’s challenges without having first thrashed the treadmill.  I know that I personally have far greater clarity of a thought and more balanced emotional reaction’s after a good work out, but now there is actual scientific evidence that corroborates.

Recent research suggests that our bodies are even involved in how we process language and maths.  But most surprisingly that the physiological processes of the heart and bladder also play a part in the psychological processes of will power, intuition and even our susceptibility to conformity.  Such discoveries are a complete u-turn from our past perceptions where the body was viewed as a passive sub-ordinate system to the brain.  Arthur Glenburg of University of Winsonin – Madison claims that “the brain does not work independently from the body”.  He claims that by honing in on our body signals we can use them to our own advantage and improve self-control, memory and creativity. 

Of course this is in complete conflict with the philosopher and forefather of Psychology Rene’ Descartes who argued that the mind and body are two separate devices that work independently of each other.  Although even in the present, mind versus body is still vehemently debated and core to the discussion is the issue of embodiment.  Embodiment for those of us who are unsure is the sense we have of the blood flowing through our veins.   Embodiment is therefore pivotal to consciousness although we are only recently aware of it.  In fact it wasn’t until 1990 when a student called Matthew Botvinik from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania made a shocking discovery.  The student found the answer to embodiment in an illusion.  It provided startling evidence of the processes of incoming information to the senses stimulating the brain.  

 The student was at a Halloween party where someone had a fake arm as part of their costume.  He obscured one of his real arms and positioned the fake arm in its place and asked an acquaintance to stroke both the arms simultaneously whilst he visually focused on the fake arm.  As he suspected he began to feel as if the sensation he was experiencing was from the fake arm.  It was as if the brain had substituted the fake arm for a real one.  It unnerved him so much he threw the arm across the room in disbelief.   Future laboratory experiments produced repeated results reinforcing the reliability of the phenomena, interestingly the laboratory results also revealed that when stroking of the limbs was unsynchronised the effect ceased and the brain was not so easily deceived. (Nature, vol 391, p756). 

http://www.livescience.com/12955-mind-trick-advance-prosthetics-110223.html

The illusion looked like providing the answer to unlocking embodiment.  Brains scans were conducted on participants that revealed simplistic body mapping on the right temporoparietal junction of the brain.  This suggests that when we encode from our sensory stores the incoming information is checked against the map prior to integration in the premotor and parietal cortices.  If incompatibility remains unresolved then the fake illusion occurs but only when full integration occurs deep in the insular cortex does embodiment and conscious awareness exist. 

 The insular cortex is also responsible for other internal body signals such as the hunger pains and the throbbing sensations of a pulse.  The process is known as interoception.  Of course individual’s ability to detect such signals has been found to vary to differing degrees.  This is definitely the case for individuals who suffer from Sensory Integration Dysfunction particularly for those individuals who are on the Autistic Spectrum.  Individuals with Sensory Integration Dysfunction can be either hyper or hypo sensitive to certain stimulus depending on their specific systems and the area in which the dysfunction occurs. 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O6Cm0WxEZA

Manos Tsakiris of Royal Halloway University London, discovered evidence to support the differing degrees of interoception.  He conducted a study whereby 25% of participants were able to count their own heartbeats with 50% accuracy.  Whilst a further 25% of participants showed poor awareness failing to count beats by as much as 50%.  The conclusions from the investigation were that those whose are highly perceptive or greater interoceptive abilities were less likely to be fooled by embodiment illusions.  (Proceeding of the Royal Society B, vol. 278, p2470). “If you have a strong sense of self from the inside, you are not so reliant on visual and tactile external stimuli”.  

Botvinik’s illusion stimulated others and with it more startling revelations concerning the associations between body and mind.  Hennrik Ehrson Karolinska Institute in Stockholm recently conducted a somewhat bizarre investigation using differing sizes of plastic figures.   Each of the participants were asked to embody a figure, including one of which was a Barbie size doll.   The results from the investigation showed that when they achieved embodiment using the small Barbie doll they perceived things in their context to be much bigger.  The experimenter claimed that even when he was sat next to participants, he was perceived to be far larger than life.  The findings from the research provides evidence to support that body awareness can be influential to our interpretation of visually encoded information (PLos one vol. 6, p201).

Tsakaris extended his research and conducted an experiment that involved participants sat in front of a computer screen observing an image of a face whilst both the virtual face and the participants face were stroked at the same time.  Tsakaris was able to deceive participants and persuade them into thinking that the image displayed was their own reflection (PLos One vol. 3, p4040).  The results of this investigation pose interesting questions as they imply that the body may surpass sensory perception and maybe in part responsible for how we perceive and relate to other individuals.  He claims we are more likely to be convinced by a face swap illusion, in others words that we are looking at a reflection of ourselves,  if  the decoy is mirror our expressions and movement.

Research conducted by Maris Paola Paladina from University of Trento, Italy adds weight Tsakaris’s findings.  Her experiment involved participants who had previously responded to a face swap illusion thus showing their susceptibility, participants were asked to rate the personality of a person displayed on screen and then to rate their own personality.  Then they were asked to rate the quantity of letters that appeared on a screen but first they were told the rating given by the virtual person.  The results showed that participants rated their own personalities similarly to the virtual person but also they rated the letters similarly to the virtual persons estimate.  The conclusions from the research were that individuals who are more aware of their body signals are less likely to be so easily manipulated in social situations and may show less empathy towards others. 

Botvinik’s findings are of significant interest to the research and development of prosthetics. Tsakaris and Paladina’s research is relative to individuals on the Autistic spectrum as it explains the significance of expression and movement as a form of non-verbal communication that has definate importance in the social exchanges and interactions that take place between individuals.

Also see New Scientist Issue November 12 Article Page 23, “Body over mind”.

Video training – emotional expressions for Aspergers:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrgNKGjSyxA

Link to New Scientist online resources Illusions Page:

http://www.newscientist.com/special/tactile-illusions

Link to News Items Developments Prosthetics:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0_mLumx-6Y

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppILwXwsMng&feature=related

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