Self-Conscious Are You?

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Do you feel self-conscious when in social situations? Do you embarrass easily? If so, thank the boomerang-shaped area of your brain located behind your eyes (regenual anterior cingulate cortex — or pACC).

Theories of self-consciousness have been floating around in the neuroscience labs for a long time, and scientists realize the importance of integrating many different sensory and motor signals in their research, but they are not quite certain how to integrate their information can induce first-person perspective and self-awareness.

Self Concious Are you?Studies of neurological patients reporting out-of-body experiences have provided some evidence that brain damage interfering with the integration of multi-sensory body information may lead to pathological changes of the first-person perspective and self-location. However, it is still not known how to examine brain mechanisms associated with self-consciousness.

In a study published in the April 28, 2011 journal of Neuron, cognitive scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, and U.C. Berkeley identifies a brain region called the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) as critical for establishing one’s particular place in space and perception of themselves.

Researchers probed the neuroanatomy of embarrassment by asking healthy people, and those with neurodegenerative diseases, to sing along to the Temptations’ “My Girl.” Horns blared, strings flowed and the subject’s voice soared–and then the music and professional vocals were stripped away. Subjects were then asked to watch a video of their own solitary singing while researchers measured their reactions – racing hearts, sweaty palms, squirms and grimaces. Those with damage in the right pACC were least likely to cringe at their own performance.

“Our results illustrate the power of merging technologies from engineering with those of neuroimaging and cognitive science for the understanding of the nature of one of the greatest mysteries of the human mind: self-consciousness and its neural mechanisms,” explains senior study author, Dr. Olaf Blanke, from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. “Our findings on experimentally and pathologically induced altered states of self-consciousness present a powerful new research technology and reveal that TPJ activity reflects one of the most fundamental subjective feelings of humans: the feeling that ‘I’ am an entity that is localized at a position in space and that ‘I’ perceive the world from here.”

What they are trying to prove is that one type of consciousness or emotional experience can come out of an interaction of multiple brain areas that deal with perception of external situations and how they affect one’s personal goals and perceptions.

The study shows that, although scientists have come a long way in understanding how the brain processes learning, language and problem solving there is still a long way to go to understand the mysteries of consciousness, including embarrassment, pride, guilt and other reactions. “Embarrassment,” Blanke says, “may have evolved to motivate us to repair social bonds that become strained when we fall short of expectations.”

This is Ron White, two-time USA Memory Champion
Memory Training


Psychology Today — What is Consciousness:

Science Daily – Neurorobotics Reveals Brain Mechanisms of Self-Consciousness:

Scientific American – How Embarrassing: Researchers Pinpoint Self-Consciousness in the Brain:

Ramini’s Blog – Brain Mechanisms of  Self-Consciousness:

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