Insight and personal change often results from “seeing oneself as others see us” and adopting a new viewpoint.
Ingenious research using mirrors makes these metaphors tangible, and demonstates that seeing oneself differently can improve ‘intractible’ health conditions like phantom pain, hemiparesis from stroke, and complex regional pain syndrome.
Mirror Visual Feedback (MVF) was introduced nearly 20 years ago to treat these chronic neurological disorders and recent research with MVF suggests that these may be reversible, according to University of California, San Diego’s Vilayanur Ramachandran and Eric L. Altschuler of Rutgers.
Ramachandran collaborated with UCSD colleague Paul McGeoch and Northwestern’s David Brang to evaluate mirror visual feedback as a treatment for phantom pain.
They used MVF with a limb amputee who optically ‘resurrected’ the phantom with a mirror, and used a lens to reduce the apparent size of the phantom limb.
Pain was reduced as the size of the limb was reduced with the lens, providing relief to chronic pain.
Ramachandran and Altschuler used two mirrors “to help people stand outside oneself,” and demonstrated that vision combined with touch and proprioception are essential to perceive one’s physical self.
Besides the philosophical implications of this dissociative experience, this finding can help those with distorted body perceptions, such as those with anorexia nervosa (AN).
To explore how Mirror Visual Feedback can assist people with anorexia, Ramachandran teamed with UCSD colleague Rachel C. Wilson and Laura K. Case, now at NIH.
They noted that anorexic individuals see themselves as large-bodied and typically demonstrate deficits in sensing stimuli originating inside of the body (interoception) and recognizing objects through touch (haptic perception), suggesting that their visual and tactile integration is impaired.
One example is the size-weight illusion (SWI), which depends on visual perception: When people without anorexia hold two objects of equal weight but different sizes, they say that the smaller object feels much heavier than the larger object, because they assume that weight is related to size.
People with anorexia experience the size-weight illusion much less than other individuals, even though they could discriminate weight as well as individuals without anorexia.
As a result, visual perception of the body in a single mirror does not correct an anorexic’s distorted body image, but multiple mirrors may correct visuo-proprioceptive integration as they judge the size and weight of their bodies.
Dysfunction in interactions between inferior parietal lobule (concerned with body image), insula, and hypothalamus are implicated in anorexia, rather than dysfunctional family interactions suggested decades ago.
Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain suggested looking at mirror images or inverted images to break from usual perceptual habits as a way of improving drawing skills.
This practice may have wider-ranging impact on seeing life’s experiences in new ways, just as Ramachandran and colleagues showed the value of disrupting usual ways of seeing and experiencing to overcoming intractable disabilities.
-*How do you “stand outside yourself” to see in new ways?
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