by Deric Bownds
Bergouignan et al. do a neat experiment in which they test how well study participants remember a presentation when they experience being in their own bodies versus out of their bodies looking at the presentation from another perspective. They find that if an event is experienced from an ‘out-of-body’ perspective, it is remembered less well and its recall does not induce the usual pattern of hippocampal activation. This means that hippocampus-based episodic memory depends on the perception of the world from within our own bodies, and that a dissociative experience during encoding blocks the memory-forming mechanism. Here is their abstract, followed by a description of how they set up out of body experience.
Theoretical models have suggested an association between the ongoing experience of the world from the perspective of one’s own body and hippocampus-based episodic memory. This link has been supported by clinical reports of long-term episodic memory impairments in psychiatric conditions with dissociative symptoms, in which individuals feel detached from themselves as if having an out-of-body experience. Here, we introduce an experimental approach to examine the necessary role of perceiving the world from the perspective of one’s own body for the successful episodic encoding of real-life events. While participants were involved in a social interaction, an out-of-body illusion was elicited, in which the sense of bodily self was displaced from the real body to the other end of the testing room. This condition was compared with a well-matched in-body illusion condition, in which the sense of bodily self was colocalized with the real body. In separate recall sessions, performed ∼1 wk later, we assessed the participants’ episodic memory of these events. The results revealed an episodic recollection deficit for events encoded out-of-body compared with in-body. Functional magnetic resonance imaging indicated that this impairment was specifically associated with activity changes in the posterior hippocampus. Collectively, these findings show that efficient hippocampus-based episodic-memory encoding requires a first-person perspective of the natural spatial relationship between the body and the world. Our observations have important implications for theoretical models of episodic memory, neurocognitive models of self, embodied cognition, and clinical research into memory deficits in psychiatric disorders.
During the life events to be remembered (“encoding sessions”), the participants sat in a chair and wore a set of head-mounted displays (HMDs) and earphones, which were connected to two closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and to an advanced “dummy-head microphone,” respectively. This technology enabled the participants to see and hear the testing room in three dimensions from the perspective of the cameras mounted with the dummy head microphones. The cameras were either placed immediately above and behind the actual head of the participant, creating an experience of the room from the perspective of the real body (in-body condition), or the cameras were placed 2 m in front or to the side of the participant, thus making the participants experience the room and the individuals in it as an observer outside of their real body (out-of-body condition). To induce the strong illusion of being fully located in one of these two locations and sensing an illusory body in this place, we repetitively moved a rod toward a location below the cameras and synchronously touched the participant’s chest for a period of 70 s, which provided congruent multisensory stimulation to elicit illusory perceptions. The illusion was maintained for 5 min, during which the ecologically valid life events took place (see next section); throughout this period, the participant received spatially congruent visual and auditory information via the synchronized HMDs and dummy head microphones, which further facilitated the maintenance of the illusion.