Body ownership causes illusory self-attribution of speaking and influences subsequent real speaking

Domna Banakou, Mel Slater

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When we carry out an act, we typically attribute the action to ourselves, the sense of agency. Explanations for agency include conscious prior intention to act, followed by observation of the sensory consequences; brain activity that involves the feed-forward prediction of the consequences combined with rapid inverse motor prediction to fine-tune the action in real time; priming where there is, e.g., a prior command to perform the act; a cause (the intention to act) preceding the effect (the results of the action); and commonsense rules of attribution of physical causality satisfied. We describe an experiment where participants falsely attributed an act to themselves under conditions that apparently cannot be explained by these theories. A life-sized virtual body (VB) seen from the firstperson perspective in 3D stereo, as if substituting the real body, was used to induce the illusion of ownership over the VB. Half of the 44 experimental participants experienced VB movements that were synchronous with their own movements (sync), and the other half asynchronous (async). The VB, seen in a mirror, spoke with corresponding lip movements, and for half of the participants this was accompanied by synchronous vibrotactile stimulation on the thyroid cartilage (Von) but this was not so for the other half. Participants experiencing sync misattributed the speaking to themselves and also shifted the fundamental frequency of their later utterances toward the stimulus voice. Von also contributed to these results. We show that these findings can be explained by current theories of agency, provided that the critical role of ownership over the VB is taken into account.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17678-17683
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number49
StatePublished - Dec 9 2014


  • Agency
  • Body-ownership illusion
  • Illusory speaking
  • Rubber-hand illusion
  • Vibrotactile stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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