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Is there a rabbit running down your arm?

Stunningly crazy question. Of course, there is no rabbit! Why are you wasting my time?

There is an important point to be shared, but first, let me introduce to you the Cutaneous Rabbit Illusion, a simple experiment.  

Step 1: Get someone to stand upright, with his/her eyes closed 

Step 2: Get him/her to extend one arm straight out away from his/her body.

Step 3: Tap him/her three times on the:

  • Wrist

  • Elbow

  • Shoulder

Just like in the pictures below. Make sure to tap quickly. ​

Cutaneous Rabbit Illusion.png

Now, ask the person what he/she felt.

Obvious right? Three taps on the wrist, three taps on the elbow, and three taps on the shoulder - 9 taps in all.

Not quite.


For most folks, you will not feel the sensation of tapping at 3 discrete locations. What you would feel instead is a sensation of taps moving up your arm, from wrist to shoulder, even though there were no actual physical taps on other parts of your arm,  Or, as the experiment's name suggests, it feels like a rabbit hopping up your arm 


This is the Cutaneous (this means a sensory effect on your skin) Rabbit Illusion discovered by Frank Geldard and Carl Sherrick of Princeton University.

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There are some important implications from the Cutaneous Rabbit Illusion. 


We covered in other chapters some characteristics about your brain.

  • First, a lot of the processes in your brain are unconscious - meaning the processing happens whether you are aware of it or not. Because we can, by definition, only become aware of what we are aware of, we naturally assume that every decision and thought we made was done consciously, that we thought through everything and came to a conclusion. Mostly, the converse is true, the thought is developed in your brain unconsciously or there are unconscious influences, and you later become aware of it. 
    (At the end of this page, you can explore examples of how a change in name can make something taste better; a company ca change whether you want something or not just by adding another option; why people would do things that they know are bad for them, etc)

  • Second, one of the sub-conscious ways in which your brains works is its need to formulate stories to view and understand the world. The Cutaneous Rabbit Illusion is one example of how this occurs. When it receives the stimulus of physical taps, these taps are meaningless. Your brain takes this stimulus and edits it into a story based on past experience - ah the series of taps feels like a rabbit travelling up your arm. This provides an explanation for what has just happened. The implication here is that reality isn't what you think it is. It is the meaning attached by your brain to explain it. Of course, sometimes, your brain explains wrongly. Think of a time when you judged someone by an action - you formulated (unconsciously) a story to explain why he or she acted in the way they did. But could it have just been something random? Or that the intention is completely different from your story?

Read more about:

- the unconscious processing of your brain

- how your brain thinks in stories, and how this affectsyour life

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