Raising the Heat: Electrical Muscle Stimulation for Simulated Heat Withdrawal Response


Virtual Reality (VR) has numerous mechanisms for making a virtual scene more compellingly real. Most effort has been focused on visual and auditory techniques for immersive environments, although some commercial systems now include relatively crude haptic effects through handheld controllers or haptic suits. We present results from a pilot experiment demonstrating the use of Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) to trick participants into thinking a surface is dangerously hot even though it is below 50C. This is accomplished by inducing an artificial heat withdrawal reflex by contracting the participant’s bicep shortly after contact with the virtual hot surface. Although the effects of multiple experimental confounds need to be quantified in future work, results so far suggest that EMS could potentially be used to modify temperature perception in VR and AR contexts. Such an illusion has applications for VR gaming as well as emergency response and workplace training and simulation, in addition to providing new insights into the human perceptual system.

Adjunct Proceedings of the 30th Annual ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology