The “body-swapping” effect was so convincing that the men’s sense of self was transferred into the virtual woman, causing them to react reflexively to events in the virtual world in which they were immersed.

Men who took part in the experiment reported feeling as though they occupied the woman’s body and even gasped and flinched when she was slapped by another character in the virtual world.

“This work opens up another avenue for virtual reality, which is not just to transform your sense of place, but also your sense of self,” said Mel Slater, a virtual reality researcher at the Catalan Institute of Research and Advanced Studies and University College London. “There isn’t any other technology that allows you to look down and see another body that isn’t yours and give you the illusion that it is,” he said.