Using VR Training to Boost Our Sense of Agency and Improve Motor Control

Patients with motor dysfunctions are on the rise across Japan as its population continues to age. A Tohoku University researcher has developed a new method of rehabilitation using virtual reality to increase the sense of agency over our body and aid motor skills.

The two aspects of body awareness: The experience of one's visible hands as one's own (ownership) and the experience of authorship over bodily movements (agency). The present study found the sense of agency, rather than body ownership, improves motor control.

With Japan's society rapidly aging, there has been a sharp increase in patients who experience motor dysfunctions. Rehabilitation is key to overcoming such ailments.

A researcher from Tohoku University has developed a new virtual reality (VR) based method that can benefit rehabilitation and sports training by increasing bodily awareness and improving motor control.

His research was published in the Journal Scientific Report.

Not only can we see and touch our body, but we can sense it too. Our body is constantly firing off information to our brains that tell us where our limbs are in real-time. This process makes us aware of our body and gives us ownership over it. Meanwhile, our ability to control the movement and actions of our body parts voluntarily affords us agency over our body.

Ownership and agency are highly integrated and are related to our motor control. However, separating our sense of body ownership from our sense of agency has long evaded researchers, making it difficult to ascertain whether both ownership and agency truly affect motor control.

Professor Kazumichi Matsumiya from the Graduate School of Information Sciences at Tohoku University could isolate these two senses by using VR. Participants viewed a computer-generated hand, and Matsumiya independently measured their sense of ownership and agency over the hand.

To investigate how aspects of body awareness affect motor control, the researcher used a virtual reality system. This system allowed for the manipulation of body ownership and agency over the artificial hand in the virtual environment as seen by the participant.

"I found that motor control is improved when participants experienced a sense of agency over the artificial body, regardless of their sense of body ownership," said Matsumiya. "Our findings suggest that artificial manipulation of agency will enhance the effectiveness of rehabilitation and aid sports training techniques to improve overall motor control."


Kazumichi Matsumiya
Graduate School of Information Sciences, Tohoku University
Email: [email protected]

Published: 20 Jan 2021


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Title: Awareness of voluntary action, rather than body ownership, improves motor control
Author: Kazumichi Matsumiya
Journal: Scientific Reports
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-79910-x

Funding information:

JSPS KAKENHI (Grant Numbers JP16H03748 and 26120007), PRESTO, JST (JPMJPR16DB) and
University-Industry Joint Research Project with Hitachi Ltd.