What makes some people invisible to others

Neuroscience: How it feels to be invisible

Even if researchers continue to make progress in the field of stealth technology: it will probably be some time before there is an invisibility cloak that can also be used to make people disappear. Scientists working with Arvid Guterstam from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, however, did not stop them from testing how an invisible person feels. It turned out that especially those who do not like to stand in front of a large audience could benefit from it.

With the help of special glasses, the researchers put 125 volunteers into a virtual world in which they had no body. When they looked down at themselves, they saw nothing - as if they were invisible. The experimenter stroked various parts of the subjects' bodies with a brush; In the virtual world, they could observe how a virtual brush stroked the corresponding empty space. According to their own statements, the test participants actually felt as if their limbs were transparent - so the illusion was successful.

In this state Guterstam and his colleagues finally exposed the test subjects to a stressful social situation by placing them in front of a virtual audience of unfriendly-looking strangers. In such a situation, the heartbeat usually accelerates and the tension increases. However, the invisible body significantly mitigated this effect, the test subjects had a lower heart rate and reported less stress than a comparison group who had to endure the situation with a clearly visible virtual body. In their eyes, the scientists have not only proven that a healthy person can be convincingly tricked into believing that they are invisible, but that this illusion also has socio-cognitive consequences. In their opinion, this raises the question of how people would morally deal with the "power of invisibility" if one day it does come within reach.