What makes us who we are? Is it the body we wake up in every morning and use as a “vehicle” through our daily activities, or is it a collection of thoughts and beliefs that we have about ourselves as individuals with certain skills, traits, and social identity? Or is it a combination of the two? But then, how does a unified sense of self emerge from such a combination of conscious beliefs and bodily perceptual experience? We addressed these questions in a series of behavioral experiments, where we measured how experimentally-induced changes of own body perception influence the core aspects of self-concept: gender identity and beliefs about own personality.
Gender identity is the inner sense of being male, female, both, or neither. How this sense is linked to the perception of one’s own masculine or feminine body remains unclear. In three behavioral experiments conducted on a large group of healthy volunteers (N=140), we show that a perceptual illusion of having the opposite-sex body was associated with a shift toward more balanced identification with both genders and less gender-stereotypical beliefs about own personality characteristics, as indicated by subjective reports and implicit behavioral measures. These findings demonstrate that the ongoing perception of one’s own body affects the sense of own gender in a dynamic, robust, and automatic manner.
Tacikowski, P., Fust, J., Ehrsson, H. H. (pre-print). Fluidity of gender identity induced by illusory body-sex change (PDF)