Neuroscience robotics for controlled induction and real-time assessment of hallucinations


Although hallucinations are important and frequent symptoms in major psychiatric and neurological diseases, little is known about their brain mechanisms. Hallucinations are unpredictable and private experiences, making their investigation, quantification and assessment highly challenging. A major shortcoming in hallucination research is the absence of methods able to induce specific and short-lasting hallucinations, which resemble clinical hallucinations, can be elicited repeatedly and vary across experimental conditions. By integrating clinical observations and recent advances in cognitive neuroscience with robotics, we have designed a novel device and sensorimotor method able to repeatedly induce a specific, clinically relevant hallucination: presence hallucination. Presence hallucinations are induced by applying specific conflicting (spatiotemporal) sensorimotor stimulation including an upper extremity and the torso of the participant. Another, MRI-compatible, robotic device using similar sensorimotor stimulation permitted the identification of the brain mechanisms of these hallucinations. Enabling the identification of behavioral and a frontotemporal neural biomarkers of hallucinations, under fully controlled experimental conditions and in real-time, this method can be applied in healthy participants as well as patients with schizophrenia, neurodegenerative disease or other hallucinations. The execution of these protocols requires intermediate-level skills in cognitive neuroscience and MRI processing, as well as minimal coding experience to control the robotic device. These protocols take ~3 h to be completed.