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BODILY SENSE AND SENSIBILITY: ANOSOGNOSIA, ASOMATOGNOSIA AND ANOREXIA

Abstract

Aikaterini (Katerina) Fotopoulou PhD, is a Reader in Psychodynamic Neuroscience at the Psychology and Language Sciences Division, University College London. Funded by a Starting Investigator Grant from the European Research Council for the project ‘Bodily Self’, she runs KatLab, a group of researchers and students that conduct studies on topics and disorders that lie at the borders between neurology and psychology. See here for publications and our Lab's Campaign on further funding on ‘Body Image’ Neuroscientific Research: http://www.fotopoulou.com

Katerina is also the Director of the London Neuropsychoanalysis Centre and runs the London Neuropsychoanalysis Group on: ‘Psychodynamic Neuroscience and Neuropsychology’. She is the editor of the volume: Fotopoulou, A. Conway, M.A. Pfaff, D. From the Couch to the Lab: Trends in Psychodynamic Neuroscience. Oxford University Press, 2012. She is a founding member of the new International Association for the Study of Affective Touch. See www.neuropsa.org.uk for the inaugural congress of this society. UCL, 20–22 March 2015.

According to the ‘embodied cognition’ approach several facets of awareness are causally related to the physical body and its properties. Primary sensorimotor signals are integrated and re-represented in various levels of the neurocognitive hierarchy to form a number of neurocognitively distinct bodily representations, including unconscious and conscious facets of the bodily self such as body agency, ownership and image. However, the precise mechanisms by which bodily signals are integrated and re-mapped in the brain, as well as the relation between bottom-up and top-down factors in each of these hierarchical levels remain unknown.

In this talk, I will discuss empirical studies on neuropsychiatric disorders of body awareness, including anosognosia for hemiplegia and somatoparaphrenia following right hemisphere stroke, as well as anorexia nervosa. Specifically, we have applied a number of neuroimaging and experimental paradigms from cognitive neuroscience in which simple psychophysical ‘tricks’ are used to systematically manipulate sensorimotor signals, promote their integration, or generate conflicts and illusions, and hence study their role in body awareness.

Our results highlight that these disorders can be described as different aberrations of a core antagonism between bottom-up sensory and emotional signals, and top–down motor and higher-order signals at different hierarchical levels. I will particularly focus on some unique, motor planning, spatial and social cognition deficits that deprive patients from the means to update their perception of certain sensory states. I will further highlight the unique role of 2nd-person and socio-affective signals in such updating, and ultimately in the treatment of such symptoms and the characterization of body awareness.

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