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

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Kingston University and St George's, University of London, London, UK.


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.

Bibliographic note

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


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


  • 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