Self-awareness is the conscious knowledge of self. Experts believe it is the basis of developing social intelligence, the ability to understand the world outside self and to interact with it appropriately. Experts believe the development of social intelligence and self-awareness directly relate to consciousness.
Few species, beside humans, are self-aware. Most animals, seeing their own reflection, will interact with it as they would with another animal. Animals with self-awareness understand that the reflection is them. Babies are not self-aware, and attempt to interact with their reflections. A child recognizes his/her reflection between 18 and 24 months.
Most studies on self-awareness were on visual self-recognition, for example recognizing one’s face. Experimental results apparently show the right pre-frontal cortex of the brain mainly processes information about the self. The same part of the brain is the primary conduit for processing memories, descriptions of the self, knowledge of the body’s parts, and mental state attribution.
Research has shown that the brain processes self-information from each of the senses, but little data exists on how the brain integrates such information into a complete self-image. Experts suggest that multiple brain areas, or a distributed self-network, work together to construct the self-image. However, the present study suggests that the senses acting together produce the self-image.
The study investigated how information from the senses affects recognition of one’s face. The first experiment showed students various pictures, divided into self pictures, pictures of friends and strangers. The pictures were accompanied by one of three smells and subjects had to hit a computer key, to sort the photos into self, friend, stranger for each photo + odor pair, the subject’s response time was measured for each.
A similar series of photographs were shown in the second experiment. However the photographs also bore names, the subject’s, a friend’s, or a stranger’s name. In the third experiment, rather than reading a name, the subjects heard the appropriate name. All subjects were right-handed.
In all experiments, when subjects were shown self pictures in conjunction with other self-sensory data, response times decreased significantly. However, response times for the named pictures did not decrease. The results support the view that the brain processes self-information arising from the senses in a similar manner and it has some kind of central system for thinking about and understanding self. There is also evidence that dedicated nerve cells in the brain’s center process information from the senses.
Some other research supports the view that the brain has an integrated self-information network. Several studies have investigated the processing of self-information in those with schizotypal disorders, showing abnormal interpretations of, but not complete disconnection from, reality. Experts believe that the right brain controls self-perception and most people react more quickly in self-recognition experiments, when using the left hand, but those who score high on the schizotypal personality questionnaire do not. This may be because those scoring high in the SPQ may have an abnormal neural system for processing self-perceptions.
There is a strong case that a controlling network in the brain receives and processes all information about the self, were the self-processing controlled by independent systems, information gathered by one sense would not affect processing by another. Further research is necessary to verify and explain the processing network thoroughly. Better understanding of how mind and brain think about themselves will help in understanding consciousness.
Source: Science & Consciouness
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