My grandmother liked Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, and sometimes I watched them with her. I remember one particular afternoon, Ginger Rogers spinning elegantly and effortlessly from the TV set. “What a pleasure, being so svelte and able to dance like that, ” said my grandmother. I was heartbroken by her simple statement. My grandmother, then in her late seventies and suffering from a myriad health complications from diabetes, would never dance or feel light on her feet again. The past was gone for her, as it is for us all.
Or is it?
New research published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, by Mel Slater and his colleagues at the University of Barcelona and University College London, shows that adults can inhabit and feel ownership of children’s bodies through virtual reality. The research team used immersive virtual reality to embody adult subjects as 4-year-old children. The subjects experienced strong body-ownership illusions, and moreover overestimated the sizes of objects as actual children would.
“Parents can have the experience of what it is like to be a child,” Slater says, and “experience their own type of parenting”. One application of the research, he offers, is to change people’s perspectives and increase their empathy.
Another application may be to help people feel young again.