Makin’s work has focused on developing a better understanding of how the brain can best accommodate artificial limbs that operate in the most efficient manner possible—hence her interest in determining whether embodiment is a real thing. And she would like to eventually go beyond replacing body parts and try enhancing still intact ones. Her laboratory has been collaborating with the prosthesis designer Dani Clode to study how people learn to adapt to a “third thumb”—a robotic finger that users strap to their hand and control remotely with their big toes. A paper published this week in Science Robotics shows that people can learn to use the thumb to augment their hand function—but it also raises questions about whether such “plastic” changes in the brain could alter, for better or worse, a person’s neural representation of their biological hand. Makin and her graduate student Hunter Schone, who was co-lead author of the London litter pickers study, talked to Scientific American about what they have been doing recently—even while the pandemic gripped the world.
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