It sounds like something out of the supernatural, but new scientific evidence suggests that us mortal humans actually have sense comparable to the feeling of a “force field” around us that can help us avoid harm. A recent study published in the journal Cognition looked at a phenomenon that allows us to “feel” things in our “peripersonal space,” the area immediately surrounding our body.
As New Scientist reports, you can relate to this sensation if you imagine yourself seeing something suddenly appear in your peripheral vision; you’re able to gauge whether it’s going to hit you and you instinctively move to avoid it.
For the first time, scientists managed to effectively trick people into sensing a strong form of this phenomenon. They employed the tried-and-trusted fake rubber hand experiment. In the classic interpretation of this experiment, the participants’ hands are hidden from their view but they are able to see a fake rubber hand in front of them. The researchers then brush the participant’s real hand and the rubber hand simultaneously. Within moments, they typically report that they can feel the brush on the rubber hand as if it was their own.
In this new interpretation of the experiment, the participants had their real hidden hand stroked by a brush, but the brush on the fake hand was stroked above the rubber hand, making no physical contact. The majority of participants reported a sensation of “magnetic force” or “force field” between the brush and the rubber hand. However, this effect wore off when the brush strokes were around 30 to 40 centimeters (12 to 16 inches) away from the rubber hand, around the distance of what scientists define as the peripersonal space.
The researchers say this highlights the sensation of a “force field” that many report feeling in everyday life and hope it can be used in neuroscience experiments in the future. In the meantime, the beauty of this experiment is that you can try it at home. Just please use your new powers for the forces of good.