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Special Attention to the Self: a Mechanistic Model of Patient RB’s Lost Feeling of Ownership

Abstract

Patient RB has a peculiar memory impairment wherein he experiences his memories in rich contextual detail, but claims to not own them. His memories do not feel as if they happened to him. In this paper, I provide an explanatory model of RB’s phenomenology, the self-attentional model. I draw upon recent work in neuroscience on self-attentional processing and global workspace models of conscious recollection to show that RB has a self-attentional deficit that inhibits self-bias processes in broadcasting the contents of episodic memories to the global workspace. Typically, self-related contents enjoy a higher salience level than other-related contents. Elimination of bias toward self-related contents diminishes the salience of those contents to the level of other-related contents. Because the typical high salience of self-related content is necessary for the feeling of ownership, RB lacks the feeling of ownership. I also discuss potential applications of the self-attentional model to other psychopathological cases.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    The following people I would like to thank: Cameron Buckner, Hayley Clatterbuck, Larry Shapiro, Farid Masrour, and Elizabeth Schechter.

  2. 2.

    See also Tulving (1985).

  3. 3.

    This condition, to be elaborated on later, is a certain level of salience of self-related content. By “necessary”, I mean that the feeling of ownership cannot come about without such salience. If one thinks that the feeling of ownership supervenes on content, then the salience of self-related content is part of the supervenience base.

  4. 4.

    I say “might go some way toward identifying the neural correlates of autonoesis”, because I wish to remain neutral about whether ownership is a constituent of autonoesis.

  5. 5.

    In fact, RB apparently now claims ownership over all of his memories (pre- and post-morbid). He does not say that he feels ownership over all of his memories, however. So his coming to judge that he owns all of his memories might very well be explained by inferences made based on his semantic memory.

  6. 6.

    Personal correspondence with Klein.

  7. 7.

    I discuss this at length in section 6.1.

  8. 8.

    I am aware that there is a distinction between judgements of ownership and feelings of ownership (Bayne and Pacherie 2007). Roughly, one judges that they own X, when they have a belief that they own X. In contrast, the feeling of ownership is characterized as a kind of non-conceptual awareness (de Vignemont 2007; Klein 2018). This latter notion is what I will assume.

  9. 9.

    De Vignemont (2011) distinguishes between three accounts of the relation between ownership and disownership: independent account theory, unified account theory, and discovery theory. The independent account states that the feeling of ownership is independent of the feeling of disownership, i.e., lack of ownership does not entail disownership. The unified account states that lack of ownership entails disownership and vice versa. Finally, the discovery account, which de Vignemont endorses, states that lack of ownership does not entail disownership, but lack of ownership and awareness of this fact does. I agree with de Vignemont that the independent account is mistaken. But I make no claims about whether the unified or discovery account is correct. However, my view is compatible with both.

  10. 10.

    Some philosophers think that “mineness” should be understood in intentionalist terms, that is, that mineness is identical to or supervenes on content (Fernández, 2019). Some think that it should be understood in non-intentionalist terms. For example, that mineness is a feature of the mode of presentation of content (Klein, 2019), or mineness is an metacognitive epistemic feeling (Perrin et al. 2020). Still others think that mineness is primitive (Billon 2017). Given that I think the feeling of ownership supervenes on the salience of self-related contents, my account assumes intentionalism.

  11. 11.

    I do not mean that there is an explicit representation of such an expectation.

  12. 12.

    Standard divided attention paradigms have subjects engage in tasks that divide their attention between the two tasks. This paradigm is typically used to measure whether attention is implicated in the target task.

  13. 13.

    See De Brigard et al. (2015) for evidence that the vmPFC is preferentially involved in tasks (episodic recollection, future mental time travel, and episodic counterfactual thinking) with self-related contents. See Denny et al. (2012) for a meta-analysis of over 100 neuroimaging studies on self- versus other-related stimuli. Finally, see Wagner et al. (2012) for an extensive review of the mPFC’s role in self-related processing.

  14. 14.

    By “cortical midline regions”, I mean areas such as medial PFC, posterior cingulate cortices, and anterior cingulate cortices, among others. Of course, I am most interested in medial PFC.

  15. 15.

    Additional evidence can be found at Arzy and Schacter (2019); Dafni-Merom and Arzy (2020).

  16. 16.

    The stimuli were trait adjectives. For the social desirability condition, subjects judged how desirable each trait is. For the syllable condition, subjects judged how many syllables the word has.

  17. 17.

    Because I think saliency is only a necessary condition, not sufficient.

  18. 18.

    It is also worth noting that Hirstein and Ramachandran (1997) argued that missing affective glow for perception of loved ones in Capgras’ syndrome is caused by missing amygdala connections.

  19. 19.

    There are studies by Medford et al. (2006) and Medford et al. (2016), but these tested emotional memory, rather than autobiographical memory.

  20. 20.

    It is worth noting that Humphreys and Sui (2016) state that “future work should not only attempt to better characterize the effective and functional connectivity between vmPFC and pSTS, but also try to elucidate which intermediate cortical or subcortical nodes are missing in the SAN model and what modulatory role they may play” (pg.25; emphasis added). My suggestion, informed by the evidence canvassed here, is that the amygdala and probably the insula are modulated by MPFC and contribute to the high salience of self-related content. I agree further work should attempt to test this.

  21. 21.

    Thank you to an anonymous reviewer for this fascinating and challenging objection.

  22. 22.

    At this point, the reader might reasonably wonder what the threshold is for the feeling of ownership. The reader might also wonder what the proportion of saliency is compared to other content. I submit that while these are interesting questions, they are empirical and warrant future investigation. As such, answering these questions is beyond the scope of this paper.

  23. 23.

    Personal correspondence.

  24. 24.

    It is also worth noting that this quote is the first (and as far as I know, only) time we are told that RB had working memory loss.

  25. 25.

    Lemogne and colleagues claim that automatic tagging of incoming information is a paradigmatic case of automatic self-focus and self appraisal judgements are cases of strategic self-focus (see pg.e8).

  26. 26.

    See also Shin et al. (2015).

  27. 27.

    It is worth mentioning that Pankow et al. (2016) argue that schizophrenia patients attribute salience to non-self related stimuli and this is (at least partly) explained by the hypoactivity of ventral MPFC.

  28. 28.

    I say that the self-attentional model can at least partially explain the feeling of ownership because I think that the model puts forward only a necessary condition for ownership, not a sufficient condition.

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Gentry, H. Special Attention to the Self: a Mechanistic Model of Patient RB’s Lost Feeling of Ownership. Rev.Phil.Psych. (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13164-021-00574-1

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