The free-energy self: a predictive coding account of self-recognition

Matthew A J Apps, Manos Tsakiris

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

218 Citations (Scopus)


Recognising and representing one's self as distinct from others is a fundamental component of self-awareness. However, current theories of self-recognition are not embedded within global theories of cortical function and therefore fail to provide a compelling explanation of how the self is processed. We present a theoretical account of the neural and computational basis of self-recognition that is embedded within the free-energy account of cortical function. In this account one's body is processed in a Bayesian manner as the most likely to be "me". Such probabilistic representation arises through the integration of information from hierarchically organised unimodal systems in higher-level multimodal areas. This information takes the form of bottom-up "surprise" signals from unimodal sensory systems that are explained away by top-down processes that minimise the level of surprise across the brain. We present evidence that this theoretical perspective may account for the findings of psychological and neuroimaging investigations into self-recognition and particularly evidence that representations of the self are malleable, rather than fixed as previous accounts of self-recognition might suggest.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-97
Number of pages13
JournalNeuroscience and biobehavioral reviews
Early online date15 Feb 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2014

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


  • Animals
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Brain/physiology
  • Humans
  • Illusions/physiology
  • Models, Neurological
  • Perception/physiology
  • Recognition, Psychology/physiology
  • Self Concept
  • Self-recognition
  • Self-awareness
  • Voice recognition
  • Face recognition
  • Body ownership
  • Bayesian
  • Free energy
  • Predictive coding
  • Prediction error
  • Rubber hand illusion
  • Enfacement


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