In the body of Sigmund Freud, we consult better

In the body of Sigmund Freud, we consult better

Not everyone constantly wants and needs a therapist at his side, who sympathetically listens to all problems and has ideas for the solution that you yourself would never have come up with. But sometimes, when you have got really tangled up in your own thoughts and no longer trust them or your own, equally confused feelings, then it would be great if a person like Sigmund Freud appeared out of nowhere.

The psychoanalyst would listen attentively, take turns pulling his cigar and stroking his beard, and then say in his calm, deep voice: “Don’t worry. We’ll be fine.“

When dealing with problems, everyone automatically engages in inner self-talk, in a dialogue in which one alternately assumes several roles. One takes courage, alternately questions or defends what one has done or is still planning to do, hears the objections of others and thus tries to find the best solution to a problem.

Unfortunately, this does not work very well. Various research shows that people are not good advisers to themselves. It works better if you are to decide on behalf of others what is good for them and what is not. But when it comes to oneself, it is difficult to judge and decide objectively, because the distance to the problem is missing.

Once be Freud himself

Researchers led by Sofia Adelaide Osimo from the University of Barcelona therefore wanted to test whether the feeling of being someone else alone improves one’s own advice or can change the reaction to it. Her plan: to use virtual reality to create a body feeling that perfectly simulates being someone else – the great psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, for example.

In order to create such a body illusion, the scientists put a headset on their subjects in the laboratory, which transferred them to a virtual consultation room via a display. There was once she herself, as an avatar, and a second, who stood exactly opposite: Sigmund Freud.

At the touch of a button, the study participants could alternately slip into their own avatar or into the Freuds. Because the researchers also equipped the subjects with motion sensors, both avatars then moved exactly as the participant moved at the moment.

Consciousness needs the body

Previous studies had shown that this synchronicity of movements provokes a strong body illusion. And so it was here: if the subjects slipped into Freud, then they actually had the feeling of being the Freud avatar. First, the subjects, still in their own avatar, should describe Freud a personal problem that currently occupied them.

Then they changed their virtual body and became psychologists. Thus, participants should then respond to their own problem and try to give advice. When they were done, they switched back to their own avatar.

A control group was allowed to slip into their own avatar, but then did not become Freud and thus led a normal inner monologue.

Sofia Osimo and her colleagues actually found measurable differences between these two groups. Those subjects who had been allowed to be Freud felt much better afterwards than those who, as elsewhere, had only advised themselves.

This effect was actually related to body illusion: if they interfered with the movement transmission of the Freud group, then the positive effect of counseling disappeared.

Embodiment is called this method, in German embodiment. Psychologists recently like to use them to show that consciousness needs one body – and how thoughts and feelings change in another body.

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