Extra Body Part

Extra Body Part


Scientists proved the human brain can support an extra body part like a third thumb.


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It turns out humans are a dab hand at using a robotic "third thumb", suggests a recent experiment that saw people learning to use a specially designed robotic extra thumb. Not only did they master the use of the extra thumb with surprising ease, but scans also showed their brain had quickly adapted to manage the new skill.

The study by neuroscientists at University College London (UCL) was published in the journal Science Robotics. "Evolution hasn't prepared us to use an extra body part, and we have found that to extend our abilities in new and unexpected ways, the brain will need to adapt the representation of the biological body," Professor Tamar Makin, lead study author from the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said in a press release.

The "Third Thumb" started as a design project by Dani Clode while studying at the Royal College of Art in London. The 3D-printed digit is worn on the side of the hand opposite the user's actual thumb, near the pinky finger. It’s controlled using a wireless pressure sensor attached to the underside of the foot. The user simply applies a small amount of pressure under their big toe and the extra thumb will contract, allowing them to grasp objects.

The findings demonstrate the brain's remarkable plasticity and suggest we're remarkably capable of adapting to technological extensions of the physical body. In the not too distant future, when high-tech body augmentation becomes widely available, this could be a very useful skill to possess.


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