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Experimenting with self-identity in the face of change

Posted on 19/11/2010

Dr Manos Tsakiris, from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London, is investigating whether our sense of who we are is fixed or if it is subject to changes.

The aim of the research is to bring scientific clarity to the basic science concept of the self and its plasticity, and inform clinical practice for people with appearance related concerns, as well as societal awareness of body-image issues.

The first project will investigate, for the very first time, individuals who will undergo full face-transplantation. What is so interesting in these cases is that the acquisition of a new face is a medical fact, while the experience of a new identity is an unexplored psychological outcome. In collaboration with the UK Facial Transplant Team of the Royal Free Hospital, the researchers will investigate the plasticity and continuity of the self following face-transplantation, by testing self-recognition in these individuals, both before and after the operation.

The project, which has been selected for a European Research Council grant, is inspired by different psychological traditions and it integrates established methods in an innovative way. Dr Tsakiris explains: “Our sense of who we are must possess sufficient plasticity to ensure both the assimilation of changes – for example think of how our body changes as we age – and a sense of continuity over time. The processes that balance change and continuity are particularly relevant for modern selves who, due to technological and medical advances, seem to be exposed to new, often radical, possibilities of change. We will develop two parallel projects over the next five years to investigate the plasticity of the self.”

Meanwhile, a second project will use experimental and social psychology methods to investigate whether changes in how we represent our own body may affect how we view other people. This may include how we stereotype people with different physical characteristics than ours.

For more information on Dr Tsakiris' research visit: http://pure.rhul.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/manos-tsakiris_a1da6a46-e489-456e-b50f-0037747ef226.html



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