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 along 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 generalizable effect 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 enthusiastic neuroscientist named Sook-Lei Liew who helped develop a study of the Mirrorbox at USC's Brain and Creativity Institute.
Our question was: Can you change the perception of self and other by inducing a two-way sense of simultaneous embodiment via the Mirrorbox?
We used several measures, including a facemorphing task and the Implicit Association Test before and after a four minute Mirrorbox session. Preliminary results suggested that the Mirrorbox could play a role in modulating self perception, but not as we had expected.
Research Poster Presented at ESCoNS 2 Conference
The facemorphing task asked participants to indicate how much of their own face they recognized in a randomized progression of morphs between their face and the other participant’s face (a confederate of the experiment). Our data suggests that participants identified more of the confederate’s face in their own face after the Mirrorbox session than before. If verified by further research, this finding points towards the Mirrorbox’s potential value as a therapeutic device.
Results from the Implicit Association Test raise further questions about set and setting and experiment design. The IAT is a measure that relies on the baseline understanding that we associate positive words more quickly with our “self” than with an “other.” We hoped the Mirrorbox would increase reaction times for positive-other associations; Instead, the data suggested that reaction time for positive-self got slower. This was in contrast to responses collected from participants in more social settings. One reading of this data suggests that the controlled environment of the lab and/or the sample population (college students at USC) may not be appropriate for a study with such potential for vulnerability.
In models of psychological transformation, researchers and practitioners often recognize stages. In The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, American Psychiatrist Scott Peck articulates four stages of community building. When participants are engaged and committed to working through defensiveness and vulnerability, a group can go from peseudocommunity (1), to chaos (2), to emptiness (3), to true community (4). In LSD experiences, “ego-death” is the hard won beginning of a richer, fuller experience of the world. If initial exposure to the Mirrorbox produces a result akin to humility or ego-death, what therapeutic structure will support the difficult work of stepping one foot into someone else’s shoes and keeping one foot securely in your own?
to collaborate in studies or exhibit THE MIRRORBOX
contact m daalder at ucla dot edu
contact m daalder at ucla dot edu