Thesis title: How the sense of body ownership shapes honesty: Evidence from behavioural, clinical and immersive virtual reality studies
Despite the increasing interest towards the relationship between body and morality, the evidence for a specific link remains rather controversial. One open question is whether being aware of our body signals (Body Self-Consciousness) biases our moral decisions towards dishonesty (by making us more sensitive to rewards) or honesty (by increasing the desire to preserve a moral image).
In this series of studies, we focused on one of the components of Bodily Self-Consciousness, namely, the sense of Body Ownership. This is the feeling of having a body that belongs to the self in its entirety and its parts. Here we used different approaches to test whether body ownership could bias decisions towards honesty or dishonesty. Through a correlational study, we first investigated how the sense of ownership towards the physical body relates to moral identity and behaviour of individuals. Then, we experimentally manipulated the feelings of ownership associated to a virtual body and assessed how these modulations influenced the tendency act (dis)honestly. Lastly, we tested a group of participants reporting long-term reductions of the sense of ownership for part of their body, which results in the desire to have that part amputated (Body Integrity Disorder). Specifically, participants with and without a leg-related amputation desire could communicate moral and immoral decisions by using the owned and disowned leg.
The results of these studies suggest that reductions of body ownership are associated with an increase of dishonesty. This seems to highlight a role of body ownership as a way to distance the self from immorality and lessen its effects. In other words, it is possible that modulations of the sense of ownership can facilitate preservation of a moral concept of self. Thus, specific training programmes aimed at enhancing corporeal awareness may increase the occurrence of honest behaviours in everyday interactions and contexts.