Ongoing Research

The Mirrorbox is an ongoing investigation into shared identity. The device provides an intimate space for two people at a time. After putting their heads into a futuristic helmet, the participants stand face to face and observe their features blending together in real time. When used repeatedly or for long durations, this illusion of sharing a face can produce an embodied feeling of Empathy.

Upon discovering this sensation for the first time, I created surveys to bring with me wherever the Mirrorbox was installed. Using a combination of questions from 60’s era LSD studies, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, and the Empathy Quotient, I set out to discover whether this illusion had a similar effect on others, and what kinds of people were affected most.

Many people reported having similar experiences.

I continued collecting surveys at art galleries and events until I met an incredible neuroscientist named Sook-Lei Liew and the Mirrorbox made its debut at USC's Brain and Creativity Institute.

Preliminary results suggested that the Mirrorbox could play a role in modulating self perception, but not as we had expected. In the controlled environment of the lab (not the easiest setting for an emotionally moving experience), the vulnerable nature of the self came to the fore.

In our study we used the Implicit Association Test, which relies on the baseline understanding that we correlate positive words more quick to self than to other. We hoped the Mirrorbox would flip this baseline - instead, the reaction time for self-positive got slower.

In frameworks for community building there are stages by which a group becomes a community. Dr. Scott Peck’s stages of community follow a sequence from peseudocommunity, to chaos, to emptiness, to true community. In LSD experiences, ego-death is the hard won beginning of a richer, fuller experience of the world. If it was used in a therapeutic context, what would a comparable sequence look like for the Mirrorbox? If loss of self, or humility, is an important part of truly witnessing others, what structures support the difficult work not only of stepping into someone else’s shoes, but of keeping one foot in your own?

to collaborate in studies or exhibit THE MIRRORBOX
contact m daalder at ucla dot edu