Katerina Fotopoulou: Mentalising Homeostasis: The Social Origins of Interoceptive Active Inference
Aikaterini (Katerina) Fotopoulou, PhD, is a Professor in Psychodynamic Neuroscience at University College London. Her lab focuses on topics and disorders that lie at the borders between neurology and psychology, funded initially by a Starting Investigator Grant ‘Bodily Self’ and more recently a Consolidator grant ‘METABODY’ from the European Research Council. Katerina is the founder of IASAT and the editor of the volume: Fotopoulou, A., Conway, M.A., Pfaff, D. From the Couch to the Lab: Trends in Psychodynamic Neuroscience. Oxford University Press, 2012. In 2016, Katerina was awarded the prestigious Early Career Award of the International Neuropsychology Society. See here for further projects and publications.
According to recent, active inference models of self-awareness, interoception has a central role in our sense of self. In this interdisciplinary talk, I will defend the claim that even some of the most minimal aspects of selfhood, namely the feeling qualities associated with being an embodied subject, are fundamentally shaped by embodied, 2nd-person, interactions with other people in early infancy and beyond. Human infants cannot satisfy homeostatic imperatives themselves. Instead, interoceptive predictions are formed only on the basis of interactions with caregivers. Such embodied interactions allow the developing organism to ‘close the loop’ in interoceptive inference. In other words, caregiving interactions are not only keeping an infant alive but they are also the only way for an infant to build predictive mental models of its physiological states, i.e. make interoceptive inferences. To support these theoretical claims I will present a set of neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies with healthy individuals, neurological patients with right-hemisphere damage and patients with anorexia nervosa, showing how self-experiences that rely on epistemically private (interoceptive and proprioceptive) and exteroceptive signals can dissociate and their integration relies on proximal, embodied experiences of affective congruency that act as the ‘emotional glue’ of the senses. Without such integration, self-awareness is either dominated by egocentric, interoceptive priors (as in anosognosia for hemiplegia), or third-person judgements lacking in affective anchoring to the body (as in anorexia nervosa).