Using Mirrors to Create Phantom Sensations
Grade Level: 9th to 12th; Type: Psychology, Human Anatomy, Health and Medicine
This project explores the phenomenon of using a mirror to trick a person’s brain into experiencing sensations in body parts not actually affected.
- How does what you see with your eyes affect what you experience in other parts of your body?
In recent years breakthroughs have been made in treating phantom pain (pain experienced in an absent body part, usually due to amputation) using mirrors to “trick” patients’ brains.
- A free-standing full-length mirror
- Test subjects
- Set up the mirror so that a subject can stand against one edge of it with half his body towards the reflective side and the other half of his body towards the back of the mirror. The subject should be able to see one half of himself doubled in the reflection, thereby giving the illusion of a whole body.
- Allow the subject a few minutes to play with his reflection. Fun games include lifting the leg on the reflective side so that the subject, looking at himself in the reflection, looks like he’s levitating.
- Stimulate various parts of the subject’s body: e.g. tap a knee with a hammer, tickle an ear with a feather, press an ice cube to a wrist, etc. Have the subject describe where he is experiencing the feeling.
- Experiment with many different categories of sensations and many different parts of the body as well as many different types of people. What do you find? Are certain categories of people more easily “tricked”? Are certain body parts more susceptible? Certain sensations?
Terms/Concepts: phantom pain
- “The Itch,” by Atul Gawande, The New Yorker
- “Ramachandran’s Mirror Trick,” by John Colapinto, The New Yorker
Warning is hereby given that not all Project Ideas are appropriate for all individuals or in all circumstances. Implementation of any Science Project Idea should be undertaken only in appropriate settings and with appropriate parental or other supervision. Reading and following the safety precautions of all materials used in a project is the sole responsibility of each individual. For further information, consult your state’s handbook of Science Safety.