Improving self-awareness: manipulating the neural substrates of self-belief

Year of award: 2017


  • Dr Stephen Fleming

    University College London

Project summary

As humans we often engage in self-reflection. Beliefs about our skills and abilities – our self-beliefs – may not always match reality, particularly in people with mental health disorders. For instance, someone with depression may think they won't be able to succeed in new pursuits, making them unlikely to try in the first place. Understanding how the human brain constructs these self-beliefs may lead to ways of restoring self-awareness and help treat mental health disorders.

I will conduct experiments using brain imaging technology to pinpoint the characteristics and location of neural activity which creates self-beliefs in the human brain. I will give people tasks to distinguish different influences on self-belief and collect data over the web to test large numbers of people and ask how these components are linked to mental health. Using this knowledge I will devise ways of changing self-beliefs, for instance by changing brain activity in real time.

The ultimate goal of my research is to understand the machinery supporting self-beliefs, allowing us to intervene in cases in which these mechanisms are broken.