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Barbie Effect

June 21, 2011

To study how we perceive our environment, scientists created the illusion of being either Barbie doll-sized or gigantic.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Becoming Barbie…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

At the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, volunteers have been shrunk to Barbie doll size or turned into thirteen-foot-tall giants.  It’s all an illusion, but a surprisingly strong one.  Cognitive neuroscientist Henrik Ehrsson and his colleagues had volunteers lie on stretchers and look toward their feet.  The subjects wore video headsets that showed them the body and legs of either a small doll or a giant mannequin.

HENRIK EHRSSON (Karolinska Institutet, Sweden):

So when you look down, you don’t see your own body, you see the mannequin or doll’s body from this sort of first person perspective.

HIRSHON:

To seal the effect, the researchers prodded the patients’ real bodies with various tools, while doing the same to the fake bodies with proportionally sized instruments.  Ehrsson says the illusion altered not only how the subjects perceived their own size, but also how they judged the size and distance of objects in the room.  I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.