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Estranged from Oneself, Estranged from the Others: Investigating the Effect of Depersonalisation on Self-Other Mirroring

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  • Thematic Line


    Modern & Contemporary Philosophy
  • Research Group


    Mind, Language & Action

PI: Anna Ciaunica

The interdisciplinary project “Estranged from Oneself, Estranged from the Others: Investigating the Effect of Depersonalisation on Self-Other Mirroring” is currently run by Dr Anna Ciaunica, in collaboration with Dr. Harry Farmer – co-PI (ICN/UCL) – funded by the Bial Fundation.

Our project brings together interdisciplinary resources by combining philosophy, cognitive neuroscience and explores the relationship between the experience of Depersonalisation and sensorimotor processing of self and other. Depersonalization (DP) is a fascinating and intriguing phenomena which typically manifests as a disruption of bodily self-awareness. People experincing DP report feelings of being “estranged”, cut-off from oneself and surroundings and often talk about “being in a bubble”, or being separated from the physical and social world by “an invisible barrier such as a pane of glass, a fog, or a veil” (Sierra, 2009) which induces a persistent and highly disturbing sense of alienation.

A better understanding of the impact of this disconnectedness from one’s bodily self on the mirroring of others’ emotions could help to develop better theoretical, empirical and interventional tools in order to address the crucial and urgent challenges raised by DP, which is a source of great distress for those who experience it.

 

ESTRANGED FROM ONESELF, ESTRANGED FROM THE OTHERS: INVESTIGATING THE EFFECT OF DEPERSONALISATION ON SELF-OTHER MIRRORING

BIAL Grant 157/16

1Anna Ciaunica, 2Harry Farmer, 3Ophelia Deroy & 4Vittorio Gallese1Institute of Philosophy -University of Porto, Portugal; 2UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience -Alexandra House, United Kingdom; 3LMU Munich, Faculty of Philosophy, Philosophy of Science and the Study of Religion, Germany; 4Dept. of Neuroscience, University of Parma, Italy

 

Background: When I walk, when I fall and feel pain in my arm, I am immediately aware of my emotions and bodily feelings as my own. We typically experience a “real me” that resides in mybody as the subject of experience and thought. But what happens if the “me” inside my body becomes estranged, unreal, and instead of having the first-personal subjective experience of my arm’s pain as being truly mine, I constantly endorse the perspective of an external observer or spectator on it? Depersonalization (DP) is a fascinating and intriguing phenomena which typically manifests as a disruption of bodily self-awareness (Sierra & Berrios 1997). People with DP report feelings of being “estranged”, cut-off from oneself and surroundings (Sierra, 2009) which induces a persistent and highly disturbing sense of alienation. Aims: The overarching goal of our project is to explore the relationship between the experience of DP and sensorimotor processing of self and other. The scientific output from Studies 1 and 2 will be integrated to provide us with a rich, comprehensive and coherent first view of how the subjective feeling of being estranged of oneself correlates with the emotional experience of being estranged from othersin DP. Method:Specifically, in Study 1 we use the Visual Remapping of Touch (VRT) paradigm to first investigate whether the tendency to experience DP is linked to disrupted integration of visual and tactile information (Serino et al. 2008). The second key question is how this disrupted sense of bodily self-awareness in DP affects the experience of others. Indeed, given that numerous studies suggest that individuals understandand relate to others by using one’s own somatosensory resources in order to replicate and “mirror” others’ states (Gallese 2003) it is important to examine the impact of DP on basic facets of social interaction. Preliminary results:Up to now we have organised our first workshop(in September 2017) featuring leading experts in the field such as Prof. Anthony David and Dr. Elaine Hunter (Depersonalisation Research Unit in London). We also invited a person with DP in order to share first-personal experiences. The outcome of this workis four talks and a joint article forthcoming for the prestigious online magazine Aeon addressing wider audiences. We are currently recruiting and testing our participants for both Studies 1 and 2. Our findings will be collected, analysed and presented at our second workshop which will take place in Porto, late October 2018. Keywords:Bodily self, Depersonalisation, Mirroring, Social interactions, Self-awarenessE-mail contact: anna.ciaunica@gmail.com

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