Experiencing ownership over a dark-skinned body reduces implicit racial bias

L. Maister, N. Sebanz, G. Knoblich & M. Tsakiris

Previous studies have investigated how existing social attitudes towards other races affect the way we ‘share’ their bodily experiences, for example in empathy for pain, and sensorimotor mapping. Here, we ask whether it is possible to alter implicit racial attitudes by experimentally increasing self-other bodily overlap. Employing a bodily illusion known as the ‘Rubber Hand Illusion’, we delivered multisensory stimulation to light-skinned Caucasian participants to induce the feeling that a dark-skinned hand belonged to them. We then measured whether this could change their implicit racial biases against people with dark skin. Across two experiments, the more intense the participants’ illusion of ownership over the dark-skinned rubber hand, the more positive their implicit racial attitudes became. Importantly, it was not the pattern of multisensory stimulation per se, but rather, it was the change in the subjective experience of body ownership that altered implicit attitudes. These findings suggest that inducing an overlap between the bodies of self and other through illusory ownership is an effective way to change and reduce negative implicit attitudes towards outgroups.

This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 836707. EIT Health is supported by the EIT, a body of the European Union.