Following the surgical removal of a body part, amputees often report sensations which seem to originate from the missing limb. This is thought to occur because the brain’s model of the body (referred to as the body image) still contains a representation of the limb, and this leads to the experience that the missing limb is still attached to their body. Occasionally, amputees say that they cannot move their phantom limbs – they are perceived to be frozen in space, apparently because they cannot be seen.
Yet, research shows that the body image is malleable and easily manipulated. And according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, phantom limbs can be altered by internal brain mechanisms alone. The study shows that some amputees can make their phantom limbs defy the anatomical constraints of the physical body, using visual imagery to make them perform movements which could not possibly be performed by a real limb.
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