Looking for the agent: An investigation into consciousness of action and self-consciousness in schizophrenic patients

Cognition 65 (1):71-86 (1997)
Abstract
The abilities to attribute an action to its proper agent and to understand its meaning when it is produced by someone else are basic aspects of human social communication. Several psychiatric syndromes, such as schizophrenia, seem to lead to a dysfunction of the awareness of one’s own action as well as of recognition of actions performed by other. Such syndromes offer a framework for studying the determinants of agency, the ability to correctly attribute actions to their veridical source. Thirty normal subjects and 30 schizophrenic patients with and without hallucinations and/or delusional experiences were required to execute simple finger and wrist movements, without direct visual control of their hand. The image of either their own hand or an alien hand executing the same or a different movement was presented on a TV-screen in real time. The task for the subjects was to discriminate whether the hand presented on the screen was their own or not. Hallucinating and deluded schizophrenic patients were more impaired in discriminating their own hand from the alien one than the non-hallucinating ones, and tended to misattribute the alien hand to themselves. Results are discussed according to a model of action control. A tentative description of the mechanisms leading to action consciousness is proposed.
Keywords Schizophrenia  Hallucinations  Consciousness  Representation of action  Motor representations
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