Building highly capable prosthetic devices of the future will have to involve getting the brain to better recognize an artificial appendage as its own. This finding has materialized thanks to an interesting study performed by researchers at University College London.
The researchers recruited healthy volunteers and those with one missing hand, including people that were born with only one hand and those that lost theirs due to accidents. While inside a functional MRI scanner (fMRI), the volunteers were asked to view images of hands, hand prostheses, and even hands covered with a sling. The fMRI scanner revealed the brain’s activity while the images were displayed. The research team focused on a small part of the brain inside the lateral occipitotemporal cortex that is responsible for recognizing hands.
Their findings showed that the people that use prostheses on a regular basis recognize images of prosthetic devices essentially as real hands, their visual hand-selective areas of the brain lighting up as though they see a real hand. Double handed people don’t exhibit this response, meaning that the brain has to learn to think of a prosthesis as an extension of itself.
Based on this, it would seem that special programs, perhaps including virtual reality, can be used to get people acquainted to intuitively think of their hand prostheses as their real hands.
Study in journal Brain: Artificial limb representation in amputees…