Trigger warnings: Medical practices, physical health problems, mental health problems, paralysis, stroke, amputation, brains, and weird health treatments. In the comments on this post, there's some discussion about gender dysphoria (transgender issues) and private body parts.Summary: If a person's idea of their body doesn't match how their body is shaped, putting water in their ear can temporarily change that.
A person’s inner ear (and other parts of the vestibular system) gives them their sense of balance and sense of their body’s position and movement. It also has something to do with a person’s sense of the shape of their body (body schema). If you put water in a person’s ear, it can temporarily change their senses of balance, position, and body schema. (Different things happen if the water is warm or cold, or which ear it's put into.) This practice is called vestibular caloric stimulation. It’s useful because it sometimes helps treat people who have problems with those senses. It can also show things about the relationship between the inner ear and the body schema in the brain.
For some people, their body schema doesn’t match their physical body. Either the person has a body part and feels like it isn’t theirs (somatoparaphrenia), or they’re missing a body part and feel like it’s still there (a phantom limb). People have to learn more about the body schema in order to treat these. Likewise, studying these will help people learn about the body schema. Treatment of these can involve trying to repair the person’s body schema. One of the ways to do that is by showing the person a type of optical illusion, called “mirror box therapy,” but that’s another story. You can also temporarily treat both of these conditions by means of vestibular caloric stimulation. That is to say, these are problems that can be helped by putting water in a person’s ear.
Sometimes people who have had a stroke or become paralyzed on one side end up feeling like one of their body parts isn’t theirs. The sufferer develops far-fetched beliefs about how the body part got there. (It’s called a somatoparaphrenic delusion.) Since there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with the body part itself, doctors try to repair the person’s body schema. A 1991 study showed that putting water in the sufferer’s ear can temporarily change their body schema, so that they feel like the body part is theirs again.
People who have lost a body part (amputees) sometimes feel like the missing body part is still there. Even if the person knows nothing is there, the “phantom limb” can feel very real. Phantom limbs happen because the person’s brain still has that body part in its body schema. The brain gets confused about why it isn’t getting sensory messages from the limb anymore, so it makes things up to fill in the blank. Sometimes a phantom limb even feels like it hurts. You can’t just use pain killer on a body part that isn’t there.
A study published in 2001 found that vestibular caloric stimulation can do things to phantom limbs. When the researchers put water in the ears of amputees who never felt phantom limbs, it made the amputees temporarily feel phantom limbs. When the researchers put water in the ears of amputees who had suffered phantom limb pain, the phantom limbs stayed there, but they stopped hurting.
I heard about these discoveries in recent post in a non-academic blog (io9
), but when I read the sources, it turns out that these aren’t very recent discoveries. Please note, I’m not a neurologist or any kind of doctor. I’m an interested layperson. I can’t guarantee that I got the facts right. If you're curious about this stuff, you should talk to a professional who has studied it in particular. I’m including this article in Otherkin News
because therianthropes and otherkin often report that they have, so to speak, a body schema that doesn’t match their physical body. Any information and discoveries about the formation of the body schema in the brain could lead toward helping them understand why theirs might be that way.
- O. ScribnerSources
Esther Inglis-Arkell, “The weird way to eliminate—or evoke—phantom limbs.” 2013-01-20. io9
Edoardo Bisiach, Maria Luisa Rusconi, and Giuseppe Vallar, “Remission of somatoparaphrenic delusion through vestibular stimulation.” Neuropsychologia
29: 10 (1991), pp. 1029–1031. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/002839329190066H
J. M. André, et al., “Temporary Phantom Limbs Evoked by Vestibular Caloric Stimulation in Amputees.” Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychology, & Behavioral Neurology
14:3 (2001), pp. 190-196. http://journals.lww.com/cogbehavneurol/Abstract/2001/07000/Temporary_Phantom_Limbs_Evoked_by_Vestibular.8.aspx