Breathing and sense of self: Visuo-respiratory conflicts alter body self-consciousness
Bodily self-consciousness depends on the processing of interoceptive and exteroceptive signals. It can be disrupted by inducing signal conflicts. Breathing, at the crossroad between interoception and exteroception, should contribute to bodily self-consciousness. We induced visuo-respiratory conflicts in 17 subjects presented with a virtual body or a parallelepidedal object flashing synchronously or asynchronously with their breathing. A questionnaire detected illusory changes in bodily self-consciousness and breathing agency (the feeling of sensing one's breathing command). Changes in self-location were tested by measuring reaction time during mental ball drop (MBD). Synchronous illumination changed the perceived location of breathing (body: p=0.008 vs. asynchronous; object: p=0.013). It resulted in a significant change in breathing agency, but no changes in self-identification. This was corroborated by prolonged MBD reaction time (body: +0.045 s, 95%CI [0.013; 0.08], p=0.007). We conclude that breathing modulates bodily self-consciousness. We also conclude that one can induce the irruption of unattended breathing into consciousness without modifying respiratory mechanics or gas exchange. (C) 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.