Lectures and seminars

SBI Research Seminar: Cognitive neuroscience of self-concept and self-awareness

2014-12-0812:15 to 13:15 Lecture room: Tellus, Scheeles väg 1, Karolinska InstitutetCampus SolnaNeuroscience


Pawel Tacikowski, PhD
Brain, Body & Self Laboratory (Henrik Ehrsson's lab)
Department of Neuroscience
Karolinska Institutet


Self-concept is our mental representation of who we are and what we are like. It serves as a ‘reference point’ in various cognitive, emotional, and motivational processes. Conscious access to the self-concept corresponds to self-awareness where the subject becomes an object of his or her own awareness. Little is known about how people access the self-concept, and to the best of our knowledge, no imaging study has pinpointed the neural basis of self-awareness. In a series of behavioral experiments we found that the access to the self-concept is partly under conscious control (e.g., during some decision-making) and partly automatic (e.g., we turn our head before we even realize that someone had called our name). Next, we used blood-oxygen-level-dependent adaptation method to identify the neural basis of conscious and unconscious access to the self-concept, respectively. We found that aware processing of self-related stimuli specifically involved medial prefrontal and posterior parietal regions, whereas unaware processing of self-related stimuli activated parts of the inferior temporal cortex. Importantly, the neural substrates of self-awareness could be dissociated from the neural substrates of (non-self-related) perceptual awareness, the latter was associated with activation of lateral prefrontal and posterior parietal cortices. Taken together, our results suggest that preferential access to self-concept takes place both at conscious and preconscious levels, and that self-awareness is supported by a different brain network than general perceptual awareness. 

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Contact person: Louise Von Essen