The ownership of thoughts and the comparator model

Document Type: 
ASSC Conference Item
Article Type: 
Self and Mental State Attribution
ownership, thought, thought insertion, schizophrenia, comparator model, motor control
Deposited by: 
Gottfried Vosgerau
Date of Issue: 
Gottfried Vosgerau, Albert Newen
Event Location: 
Caltech, Pasadena, CA, USA
Event Title: 
9th annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness
Event Type: 
ASSC Conference
Presentation Type: 
Number of Pages: 
Schizophrenia is often thought of as an impairment of the self, mostly because of positive syndromes. Indeed, psychiatric research has inspired a lot of recent theories about the human self-consciousness. It is widely assumed that the feeling of ownership is one of the basic features that make self-consciousness possible. We will focus on the ownership of thoughts, which is said to be lost during thought insertion. Campbell (1999) explains the feeling of ownership of thoughts with the help of the comparator model, characterizing thoughts as motor processes. This model is originally developed for motor control. In this picture, there is an intention to move, which leads to a desired state. During the movement the desired state is compared with the actual state; in the case of matching a feeling of ownership ('I did this') arises, whereas in the case of mismatch the cause is attributed to some external force (see Frith 1992). Parallel to this picture, Campbell assumes an intention to think a thought p, which is compared to the thought p occurring in the actual stream of consciousness. Equally, the case of matching leads to the feeling of ownership, whereas mismatches lead to the delusion of thought insertion. According to Campbell, the function of this mechanism is to 'keep thoughts on track', i.e. it enables us to think goal-headed. However, several problems arise in this picture. Since the intention to think p must have the same content as the thought (to be matchable), it seems that this intention is itself a thought with content p which presupposes another intention. This leads to an infinite regress. Moreover, it implies that it is possible to imagine thoughts without actually thinking them, to name only two of the problems. Because of these problems, we think (contra Campbell) that thoughts cannot be characterized as motor actions, but rather as intentions for actions capable of triggering movements. Moreover, thought insertion requires a two-factor account (as shown for various delusions by Davies et al. 2001) involving thought production and a rationalization module. The delusion of thought insertion requires that the rationalization (or the access to it) is impaired. Rationalization is a well described process (see the theory of cognitive dissonance by Festinger 1957) that is responsible for (at least a large part of) self-ascriptions. We conclude that the feeling of ownership is a rather complex and high-level feature of self-consciousness.
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