We describe a theoretical model of the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying conscious presence and its disturbances. The model is based on interoceptive prediction error and is informed by predictive models of agency, general models of hierarchical predictive coding and dopaminergic signaling in cortex, the role of the anterior insular cortex (AIC) in interoception and emotion, and cognitive neuroscience evidence from studies of virtual reality and of psychiatric disorders of presence, specifically depersonalization/derealization disorder. The model associates presence with successful suppression by top-down predictions of informative interoceptive signals evoked by autonomic control signals and, indirectly, by visceral responses to afferent sensory signals. The model connects presence to agency by allowing that predicted interoceptive signals will depend on whether afferent sensory signals are determined, by a parallel predictive-coding mechanism, to be self-generated or externally caused. Anatomically, we identify the AIC as the likely locus of key neural comparator mechanisms. Our model integrates a broad range of previously disparate evidence, makes predictions for conjoint manipulations of agency and presence, offers a new view of emotion as interoceptive inference, and represents a step toward a mechanistic account of a fundamental phenomenological property of consciousness.
Keywords: presence, consciousness, depersonalization disorder, agency, interoception, insular cortex, virtual reality, predictive coding
Citation: Seth AK, Suzuki K and Critchley HD (2012) An interoceptive predictive coding model of conscious presence. Front. Psychology 2:395. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00395
Received: 04 November 2011;
Paper pending published: 05 December 2011;
Accepted: 20 December 2011; Published online: 10 January 2012.
Edited by:Morten Overgaard, Aalborg University, Denmark
Reviewed by:Ryota Kanai, University College London, UK
Copyright: © 2012 Seth, Suzuki and Critchley. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial License, which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited.
*Correspondence: Anil K. Seth, Department of Informatics, Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9QJ, UK. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org