New Paper on Breathing Contributions to Bodily Self‐Consciousness

© LNCO / EPFL 2020

© LNCO / EPFL 2020

In collaboration with the pneumology divisions of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital and of Geneva University Hospital, we investigated the mechanisms involved in the visuo-respiratory full-body illusion. These findings have now been published in Psychophysiology.

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

Recently, in collaboration with the pneumology divisions of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital and of Geneva University Hospitals, we published a paper in psychophysiology investigating the underlying mechanisms involved in the visuo-respiratory full-body illusion. 

Such an illusion paradigm presents a flashing outline surrounding an avatar in VR; the flash intensity depends on the participant’s breathing to induce to the participant an illusory feeling of self-identification toward the avatar’s body. In other words, if the flash is in synch with your respiration, it has been shown that you will tend to think more that the avatar’s body is your body suggesting that bodily signals, such as respiration, contribute to bodily self‐consciousness. Our main goal was to dig into the possible mechanisms supporting this illusion, to do so, we asked participants to perform the task while breathing actively (by themselves) or passively (by using a machine which was automatically delivering breaths). We found that illusory effects were not modulated by our breathing manipulations and that such effects seemed independently from the proper initiation of a breathing motor command. However, the variability of the breathing physiology signals changed when the visuo-respiratory flash feedback was not in synchrony with the participant’s breathing. We postulate that this phenomenon is a potential attempt to minimize the observed mismatch to reduce the breathing discomfort and/or to inform the feeling of control over the act of breathing itself; a concept defined as breathing agency. Such findings open new avenues of research and might inform the development of respiration rehabilitation tools. 


We would like to thank the Bertarelli Foundation for funding this research.


Betka, S., Canzoneri, E., Adler, D., Herbelin, B., Bello-Ruiz, J., Kannape, O. A., Similowski, T., & Blanke, O. (2020). Mechanisms of the breathing contribution to bodily self-consciousness in healthy humans: Lessons from machine-assisted breathing? Psychophysiology, e13564.