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Out-of-body experiments show kids’ budding sense of self

Children as young as age 6 have body awareness needed to identify with avatar of themselves

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4:15pm, April 3, 2017
child with VR

SEEING ME  A sense of being a self in one’s own body develops in phases over many years, beginning by age 6, a new study finds. Researchers studied kids and adults who felt a touch on their actual backs as they saw a virtual version of themselves touched on the back with a stick. Here, a 5-year-old girl models a virtual reality device used in the study.

Kids can have virtual out-of-body experiences as early as age 6. Oddly enough, the ability to inhabit a virtual avatar signals a budding sense that one’s self is located in one’s own body, researchers say.

Grade-schoolers were stroked on their backs with a stick while viewing virtual versions of themselves undergoing the same touch. Just after the session ended, the children often reported that they had felt like the virtual body was their actual body, says psychologist Dorothy Cowie of Durham University in England. This sense of being a self in a body, which can be virtually manipulated via sight and touch, gets stronger and more nuanced throughout childhood, the scientists report March 22 in Developmental Science.

By around age 10, individuals start to report feeling the touch of a stick stroking a virtual body, denoting a growing integration of sensations with the

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