Sense of Self and Agency in Schizophrenia: Illusions, Delusions, and Loci of Control

Conference: The Asian Conference on Psychology & the Behavioral Sciences (ACP2022)
Title: Sense of Self and Agency in Schizophrenia: Illusions, Delusions, and Loci of Control
Stream: Mental Health
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Austin Avison, Eastern Michigan University, United States


Agency refers to subjective experiences of being the initiator of one’s actions. However, a sense of agency (SA) is not assured and can deteriorate in the presence of mental disorders, particularly within the schizophrenia spectrum. In patients with schizophrenia, SAs are profoundly impaired and represent a criterion of the disorder: the inability to attribute one’s thoughts, speech, and behavior to oneself. Schizophrenia is principally a disorder of the self, where individuals appear to have an abnormal sense of self and agency, where, for example, internally generated stimuli are ascribed to external sources, resulting in thought insertion symptoms. Consideration of individuals’ senses of agency can provide critical insight into positive symptoms of schizophrenia, particularly regarding delusions of control. Delusions of control can express a loss of command over mind and body, that an external force has withdrawn or inserted one’s thoughts, or that an outside influence is acting upon oneself. Like delusions, hallucinations are perceived as distinct from the self and are not under the control of the individual. Paradoxically, clinical research indicates that individuals with schizophrenia have diminished perceptions of agency and control; experimental data demonstrates a greater perception of external influence regardless of actual involvement. We discuss the implications of these findings in the context of illusions of control, which occur when individuals overestimate their control over events when no causal link exists. Here, we incorporate evidence on external loci of control to analyze how perceptions of internal-external controls relate to senses of self and agency in schizophrenia.

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