Examining the Perception of Body Sensations: Correlating Aspects of Perceptual Processes with Mind, Self, and Basic Physiology

Examining the Perception of Body Sensations: Correlating Aspects of Perceptual Processes with Mind, Self, and Basic Physiology


Recent scientific findings suggest that perception of body sensations, such as a lump in the throat or a twinge in the hand, takes place precisely at the interface between mind and body. In this presentation, I will discuss work by our lab and others that shows how focused mental attention rapidly shapes perception of body sensations by influencing neurons in the basic somatosensory processing network in the brain. In parallel with this basic science, our work also suggests mindfulness practice enhances the mind’s ability to control the “volume” of these simple body-related neuronal signals. In addition, I will describe a higher-order body perception network in the brain that integrates touch, joint and muscle sensations and visual images of the body, to produce a 3-dimensional ego-centric map of the body in space. To examine this 3-D body map, scientists have created illusions that probe body perception mechanisms. The rubber hand illusion, in which participants are tricked into “disowning” their real hand and adopting the rubber hand as if it were their own, is especially relevant for illustrating the perception of complex body sensations. Recent studies of the rubber hand illusion suggest that perception of complex, 3-dimensional multisensory body feelings occurs explicitly at the mind-body interface, as this perception is correlated with both self-processing and with basic physiological mechanisms such as temperature regulation. Finally, I will conclude by asking whether the neuroscience of body perception networks can provide a tractable basis for investigating the effects of contemplative practices (including Tibetan, Chinese and Zen practices) that focus on changing the 3-dimensional experience of the body in space through attention to posture and to internal spatial “channels” of sensation and “energy.”

  • Dialogue 30
    19 sessions
  • December 15, 2015
    Sera Monastery, Bylakuppe, India
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Catherine Kerr

Catherine Kerr, PhD, is Director of the VITALITY PROJECT situated in the embodied neuroscience lab at Brown University. She also directs the translational neuroscience initiative in Brown's Contemplative Studies Initiative. Her research investigates the effects of embodied contemplative practice on brain networks, with a specific focus on mindfulness, qigong and Tai Chi. For the VITALITY PROJECT, she is investigating novel neuro-immune hypotheses related to embodiment, assessing the effects of qigong on fatigue and the experience of energy. The larger goal of the VITALITY PROJECT is to discover neural mechanisms underlying the experience of "energy" and "qi."