Cognetics to study Thought Insertion

© A. Serino / EPFL 2021

© A. Serino / EPFL 2021

Thought insertion, an enigmatic and key symptom of schizophrenia, induced in healthy subjects by joining robotics and cognition.


  • Thought insertion (TI) is an enigmatic and clinically relevant symptom in psychiatry
  • We report a new robotics-based approach to study TI experimentally
  • Sensorimotor conflicts induce feeling of a presence (FoP) in source monitoring tasks
  • TI depends on source monitoring during sensorimotor processing and FoP


Thought insertion (TI) is characterized by the experience that certain thoughts, occurring in one’s mind, are not one’s own, but the thoughts of somebody else and suggestive of a psychotic disorder. We report a robotics-based method able to investigate the behavioral and subjective mechanisms of TI in healthy participants. We used a robotic device to alter body perception by providing online sensorimotor stimulation, while participants performed cognitive tasks implying source monitoring of mental states attributed to either oneself or another person. Across several experiments, conflicting sensorimotor stimulation reduced the distinction between self-and other-generated thoughts and was, moreover, associated with the experimentally generated feeling of being in the presence of an alien agent and subjective aspects of TI. Introducing a new robotics-based approach that enables the experimental study of the brain mechanisms of TI, these results link TI to predictable self-other shifts in source monitoring and specific sensorimotor processes.


The study on TI is part of a larger project in the Lab, in which we pursue the development of Cognetics (Rognini and Blanke 2016). Cognetics is the joint application of principles and methods from robotics and cognitive science to investigate consciousness and cognitive function, including the controlled induction of hallucinations, such as presence hallucinations (Blanke et al., 2014), auditory verbal hallucinations (Orepic et al., 2020), and delusions including thought insertion (Serino et al., 2021).


This work was supported by two generous donors advised by CARIGEST SA (the first one wishing to remain anonymous and the second one being Fondazione Teofilo Rossi di Montelera e diPremuda), the Roger de Spoelberch Foundation, the Bertarelli Family Foundation, and the Swiss NationalScience Foundation to O.B. as well as by the National Center of Competence in Research: SYNAPSY financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation. M.H. was supported by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.


Serino, A., Pozeg, P., Bernasconi, F., Solcà, M., Hara, M., Progin, P., Stripeikyte, G., Dhanis, H., Salomon, R., Bleuler, H., Rognini, G., & Blanke, O. (2021). Thought consciousness and source monitoring depend on robotically controlled sensorimotor conflicts and illusory states. IScience, 24(1), 101955.