To reduce stress and anxiety, make yourself invisible

Invisibility experiment with paintbrush

In one experiment, researchers poked participants with a paintbrush while simultaneously poking thin air with another paintbrush across from them in exactly the same manner. Video footage of the researcher poking empty air streamed to the participant’s headset, producing a false sense of invisibility.

Staffan Larsson

Turning someone invisible may still be the stuff of fiction, but what would invisibility feel like? Perhaps unsurprisingly, it makes people less anxious about social situations, researchers find April 23 in Scientific Reports.

To create the sensation of being invisible, scientists designed a virtual environment that tricked participants’ brains by displaying empty space where their bodies stood. Researchers exposed participants to a few different scenarios, like standing before a group or getting poked with a paint brush, to see how they responded. The illusion worked. Participants also had lower heart rates and felt less stressed in front of other people when “invisible.”

The findings give insights into self-perception, but they probably won’t be put to everyday use until invisibility cloak technology catches up.

Helen Thompson

Helen Thompson is the associate digital editor. She has undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Trinity University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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