Writtle University College and ARU have merged. Writtle’s full range of college, degree, postgraduate and short courses will still be delivered on the Writtle campus. See our guide to finding Writtle information on this site.

ARU events focus on truly mind-blowing science

Published: 21 March 2022 at 12:20

Picture of a human brain

Discover what happens when there’s a mismatch between our body and brain

The mind-blowing science behind phantom limbs, out of body experiences, and why some people feel they are living in a dream will be revealed during a free event at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in Cambridge on Wednesday, 6 April.

The talk by Dr Jane Aspell, the Head of ARU’s Self and Body Lab, is one of 25 events being hosted by ARU as part of the Cambridge Festival, with presentations, exhibitions and performances running from 31 March until 10 April.

Dr Aspell’s event, Losing and finding the self in the brain, will cover the latest research into the unusual conditions that occur when there’s a mismatch between our body and our brain, which is the main focus of her work. 

She will explain how neuroscientists study the causes of these disorders to find interventions to help patients, and also to gain insight into how the brain generates the ‘healthy’ sense of self that most of us take for granted.

Dr Aspell, Associate Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at ARU, explained:

“Phantom limb pain is a surprisingly common condition in which people who have had a limb amputated continue to feel sensations, even painful ones, in the limb which no longer exists. This happens because the brain has not ‘updated’ its map of the body. 

“There are a number of other, rarer disorders that occur when the experience of the body and self are disrupted.  A less well-known condition, which in some ways is the opposite of phantom limb pain, is xenomelia, also known as body integrity dysphoria.  People who suffer from xenomelia feel like one of their limbs – usually their left leg – does not ‘belong’ to their body. 

“They feel this so keenly that they have a very strong desire for amputation, even though the limb is healthy. There are parallels with this and somatoparaphrenia, in which patients also deny ownership of their own limb and even claim it belongs to someone else.

“One of the most all-encompassing disorders of self is depersonalisation disorder, which leads people to feel detached from their entire body, their lives and their surroundings. They feel like they are living in a dream, or watching themselves in a movie, and their bodies are not their own.  Like some of the other disorders, scientists have started to discover that depersonalisation may also be caused by a mismatch between the brain and the body.”


Dr Aspell’s talk begins at 4pm on Wednesday, 6 April, and is immediately followed by an interactive event, Generating the foundations of self, showcasing the work of ARU’s Self & Body Lab.  Visitors will learn how stimuli from both outside and inside the body, such as our heart and gut, contribute to our sense of self.

Participants will get the chance to undergo an out of body experience generated using virtual reality, learn how the perception of the heartbeat varies between individuals, and discover how the experience of the body and self compares between dreaming and waking. 

It will also feature a showcase of Artificial Intelligence-generated art created from dream reports.  Visitors will be able to feed extracts of their own dreams into the AI dream machine to create a visualisation of their night-time experiences.

All Cambridge Festival events at ARU are open to the public and free to attend, although some need to be pre-booked.  For further details, please visit the ARU website at https://aru.ac.uk/community-engagement/cambridge-festival-2022