You'd never guess it, but a robotic "third thumb" can change the way your hand is represented in your brain, according to a new study published in the journal Science Robotics.
The research team trained humans to employ a robotic extra thumb and discovered that they could effectively execute complex and dextrous tasks, including building a tower of blocks, using their double-thumbed hand. As participants continued to train, they remarked on how it increasingly felt like just another part of their body.
Called the Third Thumb, the device's development was part of an award-winning graduate project at the Royal College of Art, under the leadership of Designer Dani Clode. The project aimed to change the way we think about prosthetics, from the basics of restoring a lost function to a more modest extension of human capabilities. Clode was subsequently invited to join a team of neuroscientists at the University College London, led by Professor Tamar Makin, who were exploring the ways brains adapt to augmented bodies.
"Body augmentation is a growing field aimed at extending our physical abilities, yet we lack a clear understanding of how our brains can adapt to it," said Makin of the UCL's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and lead author of the study, in an embargoed release shared with IE. "By studying people using Dani's cleverly-designed Third Thumb, we sought to answer key questions around whether the human brain can support an extra body part, and how the technology might impact our brain."