Infoscience

Thesis

Vestibular contribution to bodily self-consciousness and multisensory cortical processing

How does the self relate to the body? Bodily self-consciousness, i.e. the sense of being a subject bound to a body, involves a first-person perspective (1PP), i.e. the sense of being directed at the world. Prior research suggests that bodily self-consciousness depends on brain mechanisms integrating multisensory bodily signals. However, the specific multisensory mechanisms of 1PP are poorly understood. Here, I defend the thesis that the vestibular system, i.e. the sensory system encoding rotational and linear accelerations of the head, contributes to 1PP and related multisensory processing in the brain. The first part of my thesis presents experimental evidence showing that 1PP was influenced by multisensory conflict about the direction of gravity and the location of the body. 1PP depended on integrated visual-vestibular signals and was functionally distinct from another aspect of bodily self-consciousness: self-identification, i.e. the feeling that a particular body is ‘mine’. The second part of my thesis presents the electrical neural correlates by which vestibular stimulation affected somatosensory and visual cortical processing. Passive whole-body yaw rotation naturally and selectively stimulated the vestibular system while the evoked responses to somatosensory or visual stimuli were recorded by electroencephalography. Electrical neuroimaging analysis showed temporal-specific vestibular effects on somatosensory and visual evoked potentials, localized by source estimations to distinct regions of the somatosensory, visual, and vestibular cortical networks. Collectively, the results from my thesis suggest that the vestibular system contributes to 1PP and multisensory cortical processing and imply that the vestibular system should not be neglected when studying higher brain function and neurobiological mechanisms of consciousness.

Related material