Strange-face illusions during inter-subjective gazing

Consciousness and Cognition 22 (1):324-329 (2013)
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Abstract

In normal observers, gazing at one’s own face in the mirror for a few minutes, at a low illumination level, triggers the perception of strange faces, a new visual illusion that has been named ‘strange-face in the mirror’. Individuals see huge distortions of their own faces, but they often see monstrous beings, archetypal faces, faces of relatives and deceased, and animals. In the experiment described here, strange-face illusions were perceived when two individuals, in a dimly lit room, gazed at each other in the face. Inter-subjective gazing compared to mirror-gazing produced a higher number of different strange-faces. Inter-subjective strange-face illusions were always dissociative of the subject’s self and supported moderate feeling of their reality, indicating a temporary lost of self-agency. Unconscious synchronization of event-related responses to illusions was found between members in some pairs. Synchrony of illusions may indicate that unconscious response–coordination is caused by the illusion–conjunction of crossed dissociative strange-faces, which are perceived as projections into each other’s visual face of reciprocal embodied representations within the pair. Inter-subjective strange-face illusions may be explained by the subject’s embodied representations and the other’s visual face binding. Unconscious facial mimicry may promote inter-subjective illusion–conjunction, then unconscious joint-action and response–coordination

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