Dr Sophie Betka awarded Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship

© LNCO /EPFL 2020

© LNCO /EPFL 2020

Dr Sophie Betka has been awarded the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship for her proposal entitled "RESPVR". In her research project she will approach breathing and breathing function in a novel theoretical and experimental framework linking sensorimotor processes of breathing to sensorimotor aspects of bodily self-consciousness.

My name is Dr Sophie Betka, I am a post-doctoral researcher at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, interested in the contribution of bodily signals to consciousness. 

This year, I have just been awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship. During the two following years, I will be able to continue working on the sense of agency (i.e. the feeling of being in control of one’s own action) associated with breathing, at the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience based at Campus Biotech in Geneva. In this project, I will be investigating the sensorimotor mechanisms of respiration and their contribution to bodily self-consciousness by combining virtual reality, physiology, and neuroimaging. Finally, I will also collaborate with the Pulmonology Division of the Geneva University Hospitals to test my paradigm in populations suffering from respiratory conditions to extend knowledge and potentially inform the development of a rehabilitation tool. This project seems particularly relevant in such times of pandemic.


Breathing-related manipulations modulate the bodily self-consciousness. Such effects are particularly reliable and robust for breathing agency that is the feeling of controlling the act of breathing. Interestingly, breathing control is very similar to the control of action. This proposal approaches breathing and breathing function in a novel theoretical and experimental framework, providing firm behavioral and neural evidence to link sensorimotor processes of breathing to sensorimotor aspects of bodily self-consciousness, especially breathing agency. The aim of the research proposed here is, first, to scientifically advance our understanding of human respiration by validating a novel paradigm in healthy subjects, by combining the use of virtual reality (VR), online physiology and cutting-edge neuroimaging techniques. Subsequently, such new methods and findings will be applied to patients suffering from Hyperventilation Syndrome (HVS; i.e. abnormal breathing patterns in the absence of an organic respiratory disease) to gain unprecedented insights into HVS underlying mechanisms. This innovative proposal is intrinsically interdisciplinary and will both benefit the host institution as well as advance the fellow’s academic career. Finally, in line with the public health strategies proposed by Europe 2020, the project findings will increase science-based understanding of HVS and will inform the development of future VR-based rehabilitation in respiration disorders.

Author: Sophie Betka