When individuals lose a limb, they often experience a curious phenomenon known as a phantom limb, where they perceive sensations in the region of the missing appendage as if it were still present. Despite extensive research, scientists have yet to fully comprehend the underlying causes of this intriguing phenomenon. In a groundbreaking development, a recent paper published in the journal Science reveals that individuals with phantom limb sensations can also experience changes in temperature. This newfound understanding may pave the way for the creation of advanced prosthetics that incorporate thermal sensation, providing amputees with a more immersive and natural experience.

Detecting Temperature in Phantom Limbs:

A team of researchers from Italy and Switzerland has discovered that amputees can perceive temperature changes in their phantom limbs. For instance, if heat is applied to the residual limb, some individuals may be able to discern the sensation and even articulate phrases like, “You’re warming up my left index finger.” While scientists were aware of amputees experiencing tactile sensations and pain in their phantom limbs, this is the first documented evidence of temperature detection.

Introducing the MiniTouch:

Utilizing existing technology, the research team has successfully developed a portable device called the MiniTouch. This innovative tool enables amputees to detect temperature through their prosthetic limb. By stimulating thermal abilities, the objective is to trick the brain into perceiving the prosthetic limb as an integral part of the individual’s body. Enhancing the sense of embodiment with the prosthetic is crucial, as many users struggle with a disconnect between their artificial limb and their sense of self.

Beyond Temperature: Affective Touch and Social Cues:

The MiniTouch not only registers temperature changes but also captures affective touch, a form of tactile perception that triggers the release of oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone,” in the brain. Affective touch differs from mechanical touch, which primarily relays information about pressure, texture, and vibrations. This emotional aspect of touch proves invaluable in social interactions, as it conveys nuanced and emotionally charged information.

Empirical Studies and Future Prospects:

The research team conducted a series of experiments involving 27 participants to evaluate the ability to perceive temperature in phantom limbs. Through thermal electrodes attached to the residual limb, participants could identify precise locations of temperature changes in their phantom limb. The MiniTouch proved to be a successful prosthetic addition, mediating temperature sensations and offering portability. While further trials and long-term studies are necessary to validate sustained sensation over extended periods, initial results indicate that a significant portion of amputees may benefit from this technology.

A More Affordable Solution:

Compared to sophisticated prosthetic alternatives, the MiniTouch is expected to be relatively inexpensive. With a significantly lower cost than robotic prosthetic hands, which can reach tens of thousands of dollars, the MiniTouch presents a more affordable and accessible option for amputees.

Embracing Phantom Limbs:

Rather than trying to eliminate phantom limb sensations, these researchers recognize the importance of integrating them into an individual’s experience. The newfound ability to detect temperature changes in phantom limbs opens up new possibilities for assisting amputees in adapting to their prosthetics. The MiniTouch holds the potential to restore a sense of embodiment and enable individuals to feel more connected to their surroundings.


The revelation that individuals with phantom limbs can perceive temperature changes represents a significant advancement in the field of prosthetics. By harnessing this newfound understanding, researchers aim to create more sophisticated and immersive artificial limbs that enhance the lives of amputees. The MiniTouch device, with its thermal sensing capabilities, offers a promising avenue for restoring a sense of embodiment and enabling a deeper connection between amputees and their prosthetic limbs.

By Impact Lab