The free-energy self: a predictive coding account of self-recognition

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2014 Apr;41:85-97. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.01.029. Epub 2013 Feb 15.


Recognising and representing one's self as distinct from others is a fundamental component of self-awareness. However, current theories of self-recognition are not embedded within global theories of cortical function and therefore fail to provide a compelling explanation of how the self is processed. We present a theoretical account of the neural and computational basis of self-recognition that is embedded within the free-energy account of cortical function. In this account one's body is processed in a Bayesian manner as the most likely to be "me". Such probabilistic representation arises through the integration of information from hierarchically organised unimodal systems in higher-level multimodal areas. This information takes the form of bottom-up "surprise" signals from unimodal sensory systems that are explained away by top-down processes that minimise the level of surprise across the brain. We present evidence that this theoretical perspective may account for the findings of psychological and neuroimaging investigations into self-recognition and particularly evidence that representations of the self are malleable, rather than fixed as previous accounts of self-recognition might suggest.

Keywords: Bayesian; Body ownership; Enfacement; Face recognition; Free energy; Prediction error; Predictive coding; Rubber hand illusion; Self-awareness; Self-recognition; Voice recognition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Illusions / physiology
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Self Concept*