Empirical ResearchBy Yves Rybarczyk, Daniel Mestre
Sensori-motor experiences participate in the construction of a mental representation of the body, which is known as the “body schema”. This internal model allows the delimitation of the peripersonal space of action – i.e. an area that extends until the maximal length of the limbs – versus the extrapersonal space – i.e. an area that is out of reach for the limbs. However, neuroscientific studies have shown that the body schema is highly deformable. Experimental studies suggest that human and non-human primates extend their internal representation of pericorporal space to “include” a tool (such as sticks or rakes) which they are using. This article proposes to study whether the body schema can be altered when the correlation between motor actions and their perceptual consequences is more complex, as in teleoperation situations. Remote control is particularly relevant in order to easily, and precisely, manipulate contingency relationships between effector and sensory organs. The main question, which the present study sought to address, is whether the manipulation of visuo-manual contingencies affects the ability of humans to integrate a telemanipulator into the body schema. To address this question, participants had to remotely control a robotic arm. Results indicate an actual extension of the pericorporal space, only when the topological architecture of the teleoperated system tends to respect human sensori-motor contingencies. This finding is discussed in the context of improving ergonomic designs for devices teleoperated by humans.