Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Soc Neurosci. 2010;5(2):148-62. doi: 10.1080/17470910903205503. Epub 2009 Oct 7

My face in yours: Visuo-tactile facial stimulation influences sense of identity

Self-face recognition is crucial for sense of identity and self-awareness. Finding self-face recognition disorders mainly in neurological and psychiatric diseases suggests that modifying sense of identity in a simple, rapid way remains a "holy grail" for cognitive neuroscience. By touching the face of subjects who were viewing simultaneous touches on a partner's face, we induced a novel illusion of personal identity that we call "enfacement": The partner's facial features became incorporated into the representation of the participant's own face. Subjects reported that morphed images of themselves and their partner contained more self than other only after synchronous, but not asynchronous, stroking. Therefore, we modified self-face recognition by means of a simple psychophysical manipulation. While accommodating gradual change in one's own face is an important form of representational plasticity that may help maintaining identity over time, the surprisingly rapid changes induced by our procedure suggest that sense of facial identity may be more malleable than previously believed. "Enfacement" correlated positively with the participant's empathic traits and with the physical attractiveness the participants attributed to their partners. Thus, personality variables modulate enfacement, which may represent a marker of the tendency to be social and may be absent in subjects with defective empathy.

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