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"Reflexion" -- The Discovery Files

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When a student in a University of Delaware study watched a video of someone else's hand being touched, she felt the touch on her own hand. While that may seem a little eerie to most of us, she's not alone. About two in 100 people have this condition called mirror-touch synesthesia, or MTS.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

I feel ya.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

There is a condition that two percent of the population have. When they see a person's hand being touched, they too feel the touch on their hand. It's called "mirror touch synesthesia," or, MTS. There's nothing wrong -- it's just an extra thing they have, like being double-jointed.

University of Delaware researchers more than touched on the subject by conducting one of the largest studies of its kind. Twenty-three-hundred undergrads.

Each was shown videos of a hand being touched in different areas, and was asked if they felt anything, where and how strong was the sensation? By the way: a second test involving reaction time was able to weed out the fakers.

45 students were identified to have this mirror touch. Many who had it were surprised that not everyone can do this.

When most people see someone else being touched, certain sensory regions of the brain are active. These same networks may be hyperactive in people with MTS, making them feel touch when viewed on someone else's body.

Famous synesthetes include Marilyn Monroe and Vincent Van Gogh. Musicians Mary J. Blige, Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel have a different form of synesthesia where they experience music as colors.

The one thing we all have in common is that we each perceive life a little differently.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

 
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