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Embodying the Self: Neurophysiological Perspectives on the Psychopathology of Anomalous Bodily Experiences

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The following Research Topic is intended to cover new scientific ground within psychopathology elucidating the potential liaison between the subjective, bodily Self-experience (i.e., the lived body seen as an interface with the external social world) and electrophysiological evidence (i.e., the perception of ...

The following Research Topic is intended to cover new scientific ground within psychopathology elucidating the potential liaison between the subjective, bodily Self-experience (i.e., the lived body seen as an interface with the external social world) and electrophysiological evidence (i.e., the perception of the body from within) by adopting an interdisciplinary approach involving interaction among Neurophysiology, Psychiatry and Phenomenology. Although potential connections between phenomenological psychiatry and neurocognition have been recently outlined, the need to integrate such competences is dictated by the widespread recognition of a lack of actionable neuroscientific progress within clinical practice, with a consequent stalemate of research in the field of psychiatry.

Understanding other people’s feelings, sensations and emotions likely depends on the ability to refer to one’s body the sensory experiences observed onto the others’ bodies. Thus, the representation of the bodily Self is fundamental for interacting with others. Recent findings have shown that viewing touch on the body of others already activates one’s own somatosensory system. Moreover, it has been outlined how motor facial mimicry (i.e. a bodily level phenomenon) in response to emotional stimuli (e.g. emotional facial expressions) could be considered a low-level mechanism allowing a perceived-emotion reverberation that might contribute to the experience of empathy. Another physiological feature playing a crucial role in the sense of bodily Self and in mediating Self-other interactions is interoceptive sensitivity – namely, the ability to sense the physiological condition of the body by accurately discriminate one’s own visceral and individual sensations, in order to homeostatically respond to emotional states and recruit autonomic and behavioral adaptive responses in consequence. According to this view, interoceptive states and emotional feelings are directly related, contributing to build the fundament of self-awareness and the “Self”.

Impairments reflecting a disruption of Self-experience crucially affect the basic perceptual field through which - following Merleau-Ponty’s view - the individual is connected in a “pre-reflective” way to the social world that provides the elementary basis for individuals’ action and cognition, resulting in disturbances of the intersubjective attunement that are manifested in several psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, autism, depression and eating disorders. Moving forward within this theoretical framework, disturbances of the bodily Self may be indeed classified as primarily affecting the subject body or the pre-reflective embodied sense of self (as is the case, for example, in schizophrenia or depression) or as being related to the body image or explicit body awareness (including body dysmorphic disorder, somatoform disorders, or eating disorders).

The aim of this Research Topic is to open a forum for the subfield Human Neuroscience bridging the gap between physiology and anomalous self-experiences present in different psychopathological disorders. The concept of embodiment indeed, offers an innovative paradigm for an interdisciplinary approach to psychopathology and neuroscience. Moreover, we aim to potentially evoke contributions bringing forth original insights to therapeutically recover abnormal awareness of internal bodily states characterizing clinical conditions where the sense of Self is crucially altered.


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