Science Project:

Using Mirrors to Create Phantom Sensations

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Research Question:

  • 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.

Materials:

  • A free-standing full-length mirror
  • Test subjects

Experimental Procedure

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

References:

Author: Shelly Smith
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