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Scandinavian Journal of Pain

Official Journal of the Scandinavian Association for the Study of Pain

Editor-in-Chief: Breivik, Harald

CiteScore 2018: 0.85

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.494
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.427

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Volume 11, Issue 1


A preliminary investigation into psychophysiological effects of threatening a perceptually embodied rubber hand in healthy human participants

I. Johnson Mark
  • Corresponding author
  • Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Leeds Beckett University, City Campus, Leeds LSI 3HE, United Kingdom
  • Leeds Pallium Research Group, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds United Kingdom
  • Email
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Emily Smith
  • Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Leeds Beckett University, City Campus, Leeds LSI 3HE, United Kingdom
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Yellow Sarah
  • Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Leeds Beckett University, City Campus, Leeds LSI 3HE, United Kingdom
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ R. Mulvey Matthew
  • Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Leeds Beckett University, City Campus, Leeds LSI 3HE, United Kingdom
  • Leeds Pallium Research Group, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds United Kingdom
  • Leeds Institute of Health Sciences, University of Leeds, Charles Thackrah Building, Leeds LS2 9LJ, United Kingdom
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
Published Online: 2016-04-01 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sjpain.2015.10.004


Background and aims

Threatening a perceptually embodied rubber hand with noxious stimuli has been shown to generate levels of anxiety similar to that experienced when a real hand is threatened. The aim of this study was to investigate skin conductance response, self-reported anxiety and the incidence, type and location of sensations when a perceptually embodied rubber hand was exposed to threatening and non-threatening stimuli.


A repeated measures cross-over design was used whereby 20 participants (⊕18 years, 14 females) received a threatening (syringe needle) and non-threatening (soft brush) stimulus to a perceptually embodied rubber hand. Perceptual embodiment was achieved using a soft brush to synchronously stroke the participant’s real hand (out of view) and a rubber hand (in view). Then the investigator approached the rubber hand with a syringe needle (threat) or soft brush (non-threat).


Repeated measures ANOVA found that approaching the perceptually embodied rubber hand with either stimulus produced statistically significant reductions in the rated intensity of response to the following questions (p < 0.01): ‘How strongly does it feel like the rubber hand is yours?’; ‘How strongly does it feel like the rubber hand is part of your body?’; and ‘How strongly does it feel you can move the rubber hand?’. However, there were no statistically significant differences in scores between needle and brush stimuli. Repeated measures ANOVA on skin conductance response found statistically significant effects for experimental Events (baseline; stroking; perceptual embodiment; stimuli approaching rubber hand; stimuli touching rubber hand; p <0.001) but not for Condition (needle versus brush p = 0.964) or experimental Event × Condition interaction (p = 0.160). Ten of the 20 participants (50%) reported that they experienced a sensation arising from the rubber hand when the rubber hand was approached and touched by either the needle and/or brush but these sensations lacked precision in location, timing, and nature.

Conclusion and implications

Our preliminary findings suggest that the increase in arousal in response to stimuli entering the peripersonal space may not be selective for threat. There was tentative evidence that more intense sensations were experienced when a perceptually embodied rubber hand was approached by a threatening stimulus. Our findings provide initial insights and should serve as a catalyst for further research.

Keywords: Perceptual embodiment; Pain; Rubber hand illusion; Skin conductance response


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About the article

Tel.:+44 0113 2832600; fax:+44 0113 2833124

Received: 2015-08-28

Revised: 2015-10-05

Accepted: 2015-10-13

Published Online: 2016-04-01

Published in Print: 2016-04-01

Authors contributionsConceived and designed the experiments: MIJ, ES, SY, MRM.Performed the experiments: ES, SY.Analysed the data: MIJ, ES, SY.Wrote the paper: MIJ, ES, SY, MRM.

Conflicts of interest: There are no potential or actual conflicts of interest for any of the authors.

Citation Information: Scandinavian Journal of Pain, Volume 11, Issue 1, Pages 1–8, ISSN (Online) 1877-8879, ISSN (Print) 1877-8860, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sjpain.2015.10.004.

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