It’s long been known that Olympic divers imagine performing their most perfect dive before jumping off. Muhammad Ali said he always pictured himself victorious before the actual fight. US women’s soccer star Carli Lloyd visualizes making goals before the game–which led her to be named the last World Cup’s most valuable player. Performers of any kind do better when they see themselves doing it, before they actually do it.
But incredibly, the power of visualization works even if you see yourself in the body of another person. Called body ownership illusion (BOI), if you see that you have the body of someone else, you will mentally absorb the qualities associated with that body.
According to a new study published in Frontiers in Psychology, subjects who assumed the body of Albert Einstein in virtual reality (VR) performed better in cognitive tests than those who saw the virtual version of their own bodies. They also had lower implicit bias against old people–because they saw themselves as old and brilliant Einstein, they also performed more intelligently and became favorable toward seniors. This positive effect was the strongest in people with lower self-esteem, and those with higher IQs.
BOI even works to blur racial lines: when white participants saw themselves having a black virtual body, they were more likely to mimic black virtual humans than white virtual humans. In another study by the University of Bologna researchers, the reduced racial bias of white participants against black people lasted at least one week post-study.
As I go through life, I hardly think that my embodiment can decrease or increase my mental abilities and attitudes. But in so many little, subconscious ways, how we think of our physical bodies does lead us to act one way or the other. In a crowd of people, my eyes naturally pick out Koreans and young women my age–no reason, they just feel similar to me. In a fitness class, I think about the ill effects of stress on my body, and come down to the floor after forearm plank instead of pushing up to a straight-arm plank.
While it’s not practical for you to put on a VR headset whenever you have to perform a task, you *can* use visualization and body ownership illusion to your advantage.
- If you have a job interview or an important meeting, you can visualize that going as well as could be–perhaps even the joy you feel while shaking the hand of your interviewer at the end, or reading the job offer email.
- When you need extra confidence boost, imagine yourself in the body of your role model, inspiration, or even your ideal self.
- Once you’ve had a little practice seeing yourself as someone else, take a moment to consider how those desirable traits actually exist *in you*. Encourage yourself to recognize those traits on a daily basis and imagine them growing and strengthening each time.
- When you have a conflict situation, perhaps with a contentious coworker, a nasty in-law, or an estranged friend, imagine yourself in this person’s body. Even if you do this for a short time, you will feel an increased sense of empathy–which will help you resolve the issue.
Have you ever tried body ownership illusion?
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