🧙 The Reality Bending League (ReBeL)

Summary. Our conscious experience of reality being highly flexible, we study the mechanisms that lead to its distortion, and explore how reality alterations can in turn inform us about our Selves. Find out more about what is reality bending here.

Topics. This includes investigating the role of active mechanisms (e.g. cognitive control, emotions, interoception, immersion, meditation, deception…) in shaping our sense of reality (i.e., the feeling and belief that we - and our environment - are real), as well as their crystallised form giving rise to dispositional characteristics in the form of personality phenotypes and neuropsychological profiles. Additionally, we develop novel methods (advanced statistical algorithms, tasks and tests) and apply cutting-edge techniques (multimodal neurophysiological recordings) to gain insight into the processes at stake. Finally, we try to understand our research in a larger historical, epistemological and philosophical frame.

Approach. We place ourselves within a neuropsychological perspective; we analyse and dissect the phenomena of interest in terms of dynamic interaction between neurocognitive mechanisms and brain processes, and aim at validating and/or extending our results to particular populations, such as patients suffering from neuropsychiatric conditions.

Research Themes

What are the mechanisms by which our belief and feeling of reality can be altered? What are the consequences?

How do cognitive abilities unfold into personality traits and metastable neuropsychological profiles?

What is the history of psychology and psychiatry? What are the methods and tools of tomorrow?

The Sense of Reality

“Do not try and bend the spoon, that’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth… There is no spoon."

In 1896, the Lumière brothers presented a 50-seconds long movie of a train’s arrival at a station. Intense fear and awe rose up among the audience, as if they could not believe that it was not a real train. Several decades later, the edges of our reality still continue to fade. Through virtual reality, augmented reality, deep fakes and new forms of fictions, simulations of all kind populate our everyday experience and challenge our intuitive feeling and belief concerning its reality.

Reality Believing

One of the component of the sense of reality takes the form of a more or less explicit belief that we hold regarding the information that we process. Is it “real” vs. “unreal”? Qualifiers that in this context are umbrella terms for adjectives such as genuine, authentic, true or on the contrary fake, fictional, forged and virtual.

  • Keywords: Fiction, Fake News, Reality beliefs, Deep Fakes

Reality Feeling

Another more embodied, implicit dimension of the sense of reality is the feeling of reality.

  • Keywords: Presence, Immersion, Interoception, Virtual/Augmented Reality

Deception, lying and manipulation

The modulation of reality could also be connected to everyday processes, such as deceptive behaviours and lies. However, the creation and detection of information made with the purpose of fooling another might require a different set of cognitive processes, such as empathy, theory of mind, and planning.

Role of Emotions

Reality bending also shares a strong relationship with emotional processing, modifications of the sense of reality might be at stake in some forms of voluntary or involuntary emotion regulation mechanisms (such as distancing, decoupling, defusion, decentering or fictional reappraisal).

  • Keywords: Emotions, Interoception, Emotion Regulation

Altered states of consciousness

  • Keywords: Meditation, Transcendental Experiences, Neuropsychiatric Disorders (schizophrenia, PTSD, depersonalisation-derealization disorder), (Lucid) Dreams, Minimal consciousness

Core Structure of the Self

Exploring the fundamental features of what makes you “you”.

We are complex organisms which inter-individual unicity is blatantly salient, as demonstrated by the tremendous variability of behaviours, beliefs and experiences. And yet, it seems that the subtle combination of shared features in regards to heritage and experiences results in pseudo-similar patterns of being, that can be isolated and described as “traits”, “types”, “profiles”, or “disorders”.

Whether natural or artificial categories and dimensions, I am interested in pursuing the ancient quest for the description and classification of such profiles of being. I hope to extend this search beyond concepts like “personality types” and “cognitive profiles” by incorporating the core neurocognitive processes at play in multiple layers of the Self, and see how they unfold into metastable characteristics.

Neural & Psychological Assessment

In this journey, the first step is to try gaining access to one’s core Self via objective behavioural measurements, which encompasses the development of new - or improvement of existing - measures (questionnaires, cognitive tasks, …).

  • Keywords: Psychometry; Cognitive Tests; Quantitative Measurements

Contribution of Neurocognitive Processes to Personality

The relationship between high-level personality (in its very large sense of typical behaviour) and lower-level aspects of the Self (measured at an inter-individual level), including cognitive abilities (e.g., response inhibition), neural wiring (e.g., features of the predictive coding system) and embodied processes (e.g., interoception) is an under-investigated question. I focus on the contribution of cognitive control and interoception to mid-level mechanisms like emotion regulation and self-control and high-level personality profiles.

  • Keywords: Cognitive Control; Interoception; Emotion Regulation; Predictive Coding; Personality, Self

Multidimensional Structure

As most of the core dimensions constitutive of our Self are likely to be individually continuous in nature, the distribution of individuals in the multidimensional space that they create together remains an open questions. Are we evenly spread, or are there densely populated subspaces, i.e., in statistical multivariate clusters, that would justify categorical approaches to personality.

  • Keywords: Factor and Cluster Structure; Cognitive Profiles; Personality Types; Archetypes


Travelling in the past and charting the future of neuropsychology

History and Philosophy

Neuropsychology and its connected disciplines are an evolving science, with a fascinating history and an exciting future. I do believe that in order to be able to push the boundaries of our field into uncharted territories, one must be endowed with some level of knowledge and understanding of the historical perspective and of the trajectories of ideas that we are part of. As such, I’m interested in exploring the roots of our current theories, excavating ancient perspectives that resonate with today’s interpretations and connecting the past with the present to chart our march onwards.

  • Examples: Alfred Binet’s answer on the value of aesthesiometry (tactile sensitivity) as an objective measure of mental fatigue (Nicolas and Makowski, 2016).
  • Keywords: History of psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience; Contribution of ancient philosophies to modern science

Data Analysis and Statistics

Today’s (and future’s) psychological methods largely take the form of software, code and algorithms. I am interested in developing and exploring the usage of cutting-edge statistical methods and theoretical frameworks (Bayesian statistics, machine learning, …) to answer challenges. By developing user-friendly tools and software to help users with their data analysis, I hope to promote the implementation of methodological best practices to elevate the quality standards of the field.

  • Examples: Indices of Effect Existence and Significance in the Bayesian Framework (Makowski et al., 2019).
  • Keywords: Programming; Bayesian framework; Statistical best practices; Open science

Methods and Tools

My research is methodologically located at the crossroads of traditional experimental neuropsychology (developing and using elegantly designed cognitive tests) and modern cognitive neuroscience (heavily relying on neuroimaging devices). Within this landscape, I am interested in promoting the combined usage of a large variety of techniques (bodily signals, neurophysiological activity, brain stimulation…), as much as I am dedicated to creating new tasks and measures to measure the process of interest. Finally, I am fascinated by “non-invasive” (a poor qualifier) techniques of brain stimulation, which can include the induction of altered states of consciousness via meditation or transcendental practices, or by the engagement in neo-realities (for instance using virtual reality).

  • Examples: The heart of cognitive control: Cardiac phase modulates processing speed and inhibition (Makowski et al., 2019).
  • Keywords: Cognitive tasks development; Multimodal neurophysiological recordings; Non-invasive brain stimulation techniques

Other Topics

Self Control

Self control is a fascinating topic stemming out of millennia of philosophical and spiritual endeavours, related to fundamental questions pertaining to free-will, agency, responsibility, will and power. Self control is an umbrella term covering distinct aspects, such as cognitive control (and the so-called executive functions), emotion regulation or phenomenological control (the ability to modulate one’s subjective experience). We are also particularly interested in the role of bodily states (e.g., the cardiac phase) in self-control.

Neuroaesthetics and the Sublime

We are also interested in the neurocognitive mechanisms supporting aesthetic judgment and aesthetic experience, as well as more extreme states of consciousness such as Awe or the sublime (check-out one of my favourite comic on this topic).

Fractal Organization

Complexity quantification (with concepts like non-linear dynamics, entropy, fractal dimensions) is a fascinating approach that we are exploring with neurophysiological signals (for instance with EEG or heart rate variability).