Studies into consciousness could help explain why patients in vegetative states have varying levels of awareness.

Consciousness—the awareness we have of our self and surroundings—is often referred to as ‘the hard problem.” It’s not easy to scientifically explain how a subjective experience, which is something intangible, can be created by the brain—a physical object. But understanding more about how consciousness works could help us find treatments when things go wrong.

Dr. Prisca Bauer from the University Medical Centre Freiburg in Germany is specifically interested in self-awareness, the relationship we have with the concept of self. Healthy individuals can be more or less aware of what they are thinking and perceiving in different situations. “When we’re reading a captivating book, we are not aware anymore of our surroundings or our thoughts,” she said.

However, being too aware or dissociated from one’s thoughts is linked to mental health disorders. People with depression, for example, often overthink and can feel like people are judging them. On the other hand, people who have experienced trauma can become out of touch with the self.

Neurofeedback is a clinically beneficial approach to working with depression and PTSD as well as other dissociative disorders. Getting a brain map can help ascertain the areas of the brain that need to develop, neurofeedback is the tool used to assist in the strengthening of the brain in those very areas.

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