Uncertainty-based inference of a common cause for body ownership

  1. Marie Chancel  Is a corresponding author
  2. H Henrik Ehrsson
  3. Wei Ji Ma
  1. Karolinska Institutet, Sweden
  2. New York University, United States


Many studies have investigated the contributions of vision, touch, and proprioception to body ownership, i.e., the multisensory perception of limbs and body parts as our own. However, the computational processes and principles that determine subjectively experienced body ownership remain unclear. To address this issue, we developed a detection-like psychophysics task based on the classic rubber hand illusion paradigm where participants were asked to report whether the rubber hand felt like their own (the illusion) or not. We manipulated the asynchrony of visual and tactile stimuli delivered to the rubber hand and the hidden real hand under different levels of visual noise. We found that (1) the probability of the emergence of the rubber hand illusion increased with visual noise and was well predicted by a causal inference model involving the observer computing the probability of the visual and tactile signals coming from a common source; (2) the causal inference model outperformed a non-Bayesian model involving the observer not taking into account sensory uncertainty; (3) by comparing body ownership and visuotactile synchrony detection, we found that the prior probability of inferring a common cause for the two types of multisensory percept was correlated but greater for ownership, which suggests that individual differences in rubber hand illusion can be explained at the computational level as differences in how priors are used in the multisensory integration process. These results imply that the same statistical principles determine the perception of the bodily self and the external world.

Data availability

Figure 3 - Source Data 1, Figure 4- Source Data 1, and Figure 5 -Source Data1 contain the numerical data used to generate the figures and their supplements.; These Source Data files have also been made available: https://osf.io/zu2h6/

The following data sets were generated

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Marie Chancel

    Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-3052-5268
  2. H Henrik Ehrsson

    Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-2333-345X
  3. Wei Ji Ma

    Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-9835-9083


European Research Council (787386)

  • H Henrik Ehrsson

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Virginie van Wassenhove, CEA, DRF/I2BM, NeuroSpin; INSERM, U992, Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit, France


Human subjects: All volunteers provided written informed consent prior to their participation. All experiments were approved by the Swedish Ethics Review Authority (Ethics number 2018/471-31/2).

Version history

  1. Preprint posted: June 1, 2021 (view preprint)
  2. Received: January 20, 2022
  3. Accepted: September 27, 2022
  4. Accepted Manuscript published: September 27, 2022 (version 1)
  5. Version of Record published: October 12, 2022 (version 2)
  6. Version of Record updated: October 25, 2022 (version 3)


© 2022, Chancel et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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  1. Marie Chancel
  2. H Henrik Ehrsson
  3. Wei Ji Ma
Uncertainty-based inference of a common cause for body ownership
eLife 11:e77221.

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