Depersonalization affects self-prioritization of bodily, but not abstract self-related information
Em: Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Depersonalization is a common and distressing experience characterized by a feeling of estrangement from one’s self, body, and the world. In order to examine the relationship between depersonalization and selfhood we conducted an experimental study comparing processing of three types of self-related information between nonclinical groups of people experiencing high and low levels of depersonalization. Using a sequential matching task, we compared three types of biases for processing of self-related information: prioritization of one’s name, of self-associated abstract stimuli (geometrical shapes), and of self-associated bodily stimuli (avatar faces). We found that both groups demonstrated the standard pattern of results for self-prioritization of one’s name and geometrical shapes, but they differed with regard to avatar faces. While people with low depersonalization showed the standard prioritization of avatar faces, people with high depersonalization showed overall better response accuracy with avatar faces, and faster response times for stranger-associated avatar faces. These results were complemented by the additional finding that people with high depersonalization reported being more likely to use avatars of a different gender to their own outside of the experimental context. Finally, in this large sample (N = 180) we investigated the relationships between different measures of self-related processing and self-identification, finding no correlation between explicit reports of self-identification with self-associated avatar faces and geometrical shapes, self-prioritization of these stimuli, and prioritization of one’s name.