Temporal structure of consciousness and minimal self in schizophrenia

Front Psychol. 2014 Oct 21;5:1175. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01175. eCollection 2014.


The concept of the minimal self refers to the consciousness of oneself as an immediate subject of experience. According to recent studies, disturbances of the minimal self may be a core feature of schizophrenia. They are emphasized in classical psychiatry literature and in phenomenological work. Impaired minimal self-experience may be defined as a distortion of one's first-person experiential perspective as, for example, an "altered presence" during which the sense of the experienced self ("mineness") is subtly affected, or "altered sense of demarcation," i.e., a difficulty discriminating the self from the non-self. Little is known, however, about the cognitive basis of these disturbances. In fact, recent work indicates that disorders of the self are not correlated with cognitive impairments commonly found in schizophrenia such as working-memory and attention disorders. In addition, a major difficulty with exploring the minimal self experimentally lies in its definition as being non-self-reflexive, and distinct from the verbalized, explicit awareness of an "I." In this paper, we shall discuss the possibility that disturbances of the minimal self observed in patients with schizophrenia are related to alterations in time processing. We shall review the literature on schizophrenia and time processing that lends support to this possibility. In particular we shall discuss the involvement of temporal integration windows on different time scales (implicit time processing) as well as duration perception disturbances (explicit time processing) in disorders of the minimal self. We argue that a better understanding of the relationship between time and the minimal self as well of issues of embodiment require research that looks more specifically at implicit time processing. Some methodological issues will be discussed.

Keywords: consciousness; experimental psychology; psychology of the self; psychopathology; schizophrenia; self-concept; time perception.