Now you know: Brain activity studied

Tuesday, April 12, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:47 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

What was learned: Advances for treating patients with psychiatric disorders might be attainable through the ability of understanding how self-awareness is rooted in the brain.

Bernard Beitman, who is chairman of MU’s Department of Psychiatry, and assistant professor Jyotsna Nair are the editors of “Self-Awareness Deficits in Psychiatric Patients,” which was published in February. The book’s purpose is to explain how the brain shapes and maintains a person’s sense of self.

How it was learned: As technology improves, brain imaging enables researchers to examine the neurological basis of self-awareness in a way not possible before. The book is based on reviews of research studies, with the most comprehensive chapter focusing on research trying to define neural circuitry of the self and self-awareness.

What it means: Chapters from the book discuss such topics as neural circuits for self-awareness and their evolutionary origins, brain patterns of self-awareness, and self-awareness deficits in patients with psychiatric disorders.

“It’s a step toward understanding the manner in which we get to know ourselves,” Beitman said.

Why it matters: Through developing a more in-depth understanding of self-awareness, Beitman said this research might advance treatment of patients with psychiatric disorders.

Dissecting the neurology behind a person’s idea of self also could enhance the understanding of society.

“The 21st century will be the century of trying to understand human consciousness,” Beitman said. “What we need, as social creatures that occupy this planet, is to be much more aware of who we are, the minds of our fellow humans and where we want to go.”

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