Reality-monitoring in sleep, psychosis and virtual reality

As part of an IFK grant to Prof. Claudio Bassetti and Prof. Fred Mast, and in collaboration with Daniela Hubl and Fred Mast

What we believe to be real is essential for everyday functioning. At the same time, our experience of reality consists of objects and events that are highly constructed, and not necessarily related to sensory input. What we believe to be real is thus in constant need of validation. Interestingly, what our reality monitoring functions identify as “real” varies remarkably within and between individuals: Children may come to rather different conclusions about what is real when compared to healthy and awake adults, and dreams may appear remarkably real when experienced, but not when remembered. In healthy subjects, regular alterations of reality monitoring occur during sleep onset, sleep deprivation and dreaming. In a clinical context, inadequate reality monitoring can be an interesting explanation for psychopathological conditions such as hallucinations and delusions during schizophrenia. Yet another important field is the rapidly growing virtual reality (VR) technology that provides compelling visual scenarios in which we interact with, feel immersed in and respond to as if it were real. Reality-monitoring can even be considered on an institutional level; citizens and courts have to adjudicate whether “facts” are real or fictitious, and erroneous beliefs sometimes result in dramatic fallacies. We will thus study the neural correlates of varying reality-monitoring in a wide range of conditions, such as sleep, psychotic states, and while immersed in a VR environment.

Neurofeedback on auditory evoked potentials to reduce auditory verbal hallucinations

About 80% of patients with schizophrenia suffer from auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH). However, in 20-30% AVH’s are not ameliorated by antipsychotic drugs. AVH have been consistently related to an internally generated activation of the primary auditory cortex, and the responsiveness of the primary auditory cortex, as measured with the N100 component of the auditory evoked potential, is reduced during hallucinations. Therefore, we investigate neurofeedback on the N100 amplitude as a therapeutic alternative to AVH resistant to conventional drug treatment.

Self-perception in health and disease

Self-monitoring relies on a broad family of processes that integrate sensory, proprioceptive and motivational information into states that are subjectively experienced as "self". We employ a battery of experimental paradigms, with and without measurements of brain activity to healthy subjects and psychotic patients to obtain a clinically and phenomenologically informative taxonomy of the various subcomponents of self-monitoring.

Resting state brain functional connectivity

We develop and apply novel methods to identify different types of brain functional connectivity at rest, and try to integrate the resulting descriptions of empirical data both into theories and models of higher order cognition and consciousness.