How does a brain generate a self? Growing evidence supports the theory that the most basic foundation of self-consciousness is the brain’s representation of the body. The
brain receives a multisensory kaleidoscope of information about the body from both external (exteroceptive) and internal (interoceptive) sources and recent studies have examined how their integration may give rise to bodily self-consciousness. I will present a series of studies showing that basic aspects of self-consciousness – self-location, self-identification and tactile perception – can be modulated in healthy participants by inducing multisensory full body illusions with video-based virtual reality set-ups. These experiments demonstrate that the induction of both ‘purely exteroceptive’ (visuo-tactile) and extero-interoceptive (cardio-visual) conflicts can alter fundamental features of one’s experience of self. The results add to growing data suggesting that both internal and external body representations provide crucial contributions to bodily self-consciousness.
Jane Aspell read Biological Sciences at Oxford before studying for a PhD on the multisensory integration of visual and auditory motion signals at Newcastle, under the supervision of Anya Hurlbert. Following a three-year postdoc at Oxford in Oliver Braddick’s lab and a brief stint at Goldsmiths College, she joined Olaf Blanke’s team in EPFL, Switzerland and shifted her focus to bodily self-consciousness. Jane is currently Senior Lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, and her current research investigates interoceptive contributions to the bodily self.