Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Replicate yourself in the ‘Virtual Identity Lab’

How do humans construct their self?

Cognition does not operate separately from our physical body but emerges from our bodily interactions with our environment. How the processes of observation and behaviour influence one another is what cognitive psychologist Bernhard Hommel (Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition) and his colleagues will be researching in the Virtual Identity Lab (VIL).

The technical aspects and how the research will be organised are in the hands of the Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition (LIBC). The behavioural research will be carried out at the Faculty of Science, and the fMRI research at the LUMC.

NWO is providing € 200,000 for the procurement of a range of different equipment: cameras and sensors to measure eye movements, pupil size, hand movements and posture, and machines to monitor heartbeat, skin conductivity and muscle movements in the face. The face movements are particularly important in analysing human emotions.

Hommel: ‘This equipment will be used to gather as much data as possible so that we can construct a virtual 3D replica of how people experience themselves. We will show this virtual image to them. Our aim is to experiment with manipulating peoples' self-image. We hope this will help us to understand how cognition works when the virtual reality is different from the original or true reality.'

It's like when you look at yourself in a distorting mirror that makes you appear fatter or thinner, or that exaggerates or reduces some part of your body. It forces you to experience your body differently: you 'become' hugely fat, terribly skinny or horribly ugly. What effect does this have on your self-image?'

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