New directions in cognitive science: The science of the self

In order to interact with the world around us, our brains monitor the way we control our actions (sense of agency) and track our bodies in space (body representation). In healthy people, this usually occurs unremarkably. However, these normal aspects of self-monitoring can be disturbed in disorders such as schizophrenia (i.e., when individuals have problems tracking the causes of their actions) and eating disorders (i.e., when individuals have problems tracking the body’s spatial dimensions). To capture and compare these various aspects of self-representation, Dr Vince Polito, Dr Regine Zopf and colleagues built upon earlier work developing the Sense of Agency Rating Scale (Polito, Barnier, & Woody, 2013) and investigated of the link between body and agency (Zopf, Polito & Moore, 2018) to develop a new multidimensional model and measure of self-representation. The research investigated how these tools can be used to characterise multiple aspects of self-representation in contexts and disorders with altered action monitoring (e.g., hypnosis and schizophrenia) and body representation (e.g., virtual reality and chronic pain). Another research stream developed new paradigms based on immersive virtual reality that allow us to manipulate and measure how the body’s spatial dimensions are tracked, and how this tracking might be disrupted leading to distortions of perceived body size and shape. These lines of research contribute to our theoretical understanding of self-representation, and have the potential to highlight new possibilities for identification and remediation of disturbances in clinical disorders. CCD investigators established the Science of the Self Network, an interdisciplinary association of researchers in this area, to coordinate regular scientific meetings and workshops.