The self and its world: A neuro-ecological and temporo-spatial account of existential fear

Andrea Scalabrini, Clara Mucci, Lorenzo Lucherini Angeletti, Georg Northoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


The current international crisis situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is having a strong psychological impact on our subjectivities. We are constantly threatened by the danger of i) being infected, ii) infecting other people, and (iii) by the loss of social relation. Departing from these premises, we here aim to investigate the psychological and neurodynamics of this complex phenomenon. First, we discuss about recent psychological and neuronal findings on fear and its disorders, related to an unbalanced intero-exteroceptive processing and emotional regulation. Secondly we move to the psychological and neuronal dynamics of self and others characterized by a temporo-spatial alignment with the world. Due to the neural overlap of emotion and self and the deep-reaching neuro-ecological layers of self, emotional feelings like fear and anxiety cannot be detached and dissociated from the world; they signify the world–brain relation, and, more specifically, our self-other relation. The deepest neuro-ecological and neuro-social layers of self are threatened by the loss of subjectivity, which is manifest in our loss of body and thus the fear of dying, and the loss of intersubjectivity that surfaces in our fear of infecting others, which reflect the intimate anchorage of the self with the world. In our opinion the pandemic of COVID-19 deeply affect our sense of self and its spatio-temporal neuronal dynamics providing the prerequisites for the manifestation of fear and existential anxiety, thus disrupting the brain-world relation with significant repercussions on our psyche and on our daily lives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-58
Number of pages13
JournalClinical Neuropsychiatry
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2020


  • COVID-19
  • Existential fear
  • Interoception
  • Neuroecological
  • Others
  • Self
  • Spatio-temporal psychopathology
  • World

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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