A rubber hand that begins to feel real may hold secrets to body image and self-perception. Researchers had participants place one hand beside a partition, blocking it from view, while instead having a realistic looking rubber hand where the hidden hand would normally lay (see the picture). As both the real and fake hands were stimulated by touch,
...they can experience a shift in where they believe their hand is to the position of the rubber hand.
‘People experience this weird illusion,’ says Dr G Lorimer Moseley of the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at the University of Oxford. ‘They will say things like, “I feel like I own the rubber hand”.’
Dr Moseley, along with Professor Charles Spence of the Department of Experimental Psychology and researchers in Italy and The Netherlands, report in the journal PNAS that incorporating the rubber hand into our sense of self comes at a physical cost. It is as though they are ‘disowning’ the real hand, resulting in a measurable temperature drop in that hand.
Your sense of self and what you think you look like, then, isn't permanent. It's malleable, even on a relatively fast time scale.