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Information für die Wissenschaft Nr. 24 | 18. Mai 2017
Priority Programme „The Active Self“ (SPP 2134)

The Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has established a new Priority Programme entitled “The Active Self” (SPP 2134). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the first three-year funding period.

The Priority Programme brings together cognitive and behavioural scientists from various disciplines, including psychology and robotics, to study the sensorimotor grounding of the human minimal self – a concept that relates to a person’s phenomenal experience in the here and now and to the question of how we perceive ourselves to be in a particular situation. While this experience is likely to be dominated by information delivered by the senses, i.e., by self-perception in a literal, immediate sense, humans also have knowledge about themselves, amassed over years, and a sense of understanding how their self relates to others.

The relatively recent increasing interest in the self is fueled by important methodological improvements, such as the availability of virtual-reality techniques and affordable robots with humanoid characteristics, and the development of noninvasive methods to study cognition in infants, but also by converging lines of theoretical thinking related to ideomotor processes on the one hand and embodied cognition on the other. The programme will seek to unravel the degree to which our self-representation is plastic and sensitive to immediate experience, to which degree it is constrained by past experience, how it integrates experiences of agency and action-ownership, how it affects other cognitive processes, and to what degree self-representation can be established in artificial agents.

The ultimate goal of the Priority Programme is to:

  • provide empirically validated core mechanisms underlying the emergence of behavioural indicators of selfhood (including body ownership and personal agency);
  • test how these core mechanisms generate a self in the course of ontogenetic development or the acquisition of expertise;
  • integrate the knowledge about core mechanisms and their role in development and learning into a dynamic model of self-construction;
  • design robotics experiments that can test hypotheses on the development of the minimal self; and
  • advance the state of the art in cognitive skills in robotics, in particular for human-robot interaction.

This goal will be achieved by addressing five key questions:

  • To which extent is the self plastic? (e.g., how and how much is self-representation affected by, and emerging from sensorimotor experience, cultural and situational factors)
  • To which degree does the sensorimotor impact on the self rely on, interact with internal, endogenous constraints? (e.g., self-concept, body image)
  • What are the roles of body ownership and agency? (e.g., are they independent factors or both emerge from event control)
  • How does creating and having a self work back on sensorimotor skills and cognitive processes? (e.g., can particular kinds of self-perception increase or reduce cognitive abilities)
  • What are the mechanisms and prerequisites that allow an agent to develop a self? (e.g., can robots develop a self)

The Priority Programme will thus focus on the minimal (rather than the narrative, socially constructed) self; empirical approaches (rather than conceptual analyses), including theory-driven experimental studies, modelling, and simulation approaches; the sensorimotor basis and phenomenal experience of self; and the actual functional mechanisms underlying the construction of a self (rather than existence proofs or brain activity, situational factors, or behaviour merely correlated with aspects of self).

Participating projects will need to address at least one of the five key questions, and successful proposals will need to explain in detail (a) which of the questions will be addressed by the planned project; (b) that and how the suggested empirical approach is suited to tackle the respective question(s); and what the expected contribution to the attempt to answer the respective question(s) will be.

The programme is intended to be strongly interdisciplinary in nature and proposals for the first funding phase are encouraged to include cooperation across disciplinary borders (e.g., by including studies or papers with other labs; exchange of staff; or mutual lab visits); cooperation will be required for the second funding phase.

The Priority Programme intends to support young investigators through workshops, a gender equality programme, and a family-friendly policy.

Proposals must be written in English and follow the guidelines in DFG form 54.01en (Proposal Preparation Instructions). Please refer to the rules for publication lists (form 1.91en). Further information on e.g. eligibility requirements can be found in DFG form 50.05en, part B. Proposals must be submitted via the DFG’s electronic proposal submission system “elan” by 10 October 2017. Please select “Schwerpunktprogramm” and “SPP 2134/1 The Active Self” when submitting your proposal. If you are using the “elan” system for the first time, please note that you need to register yourself and your institutional address by 26 September 2017 before being able to submit a proposal.

Preparatory Workshop

A preparatory workshop will be held in Fulda on 27 to 28 July 2017. If you plan to submit a project proposal within the SPP you are invited to participate in the workshop (one person per project proposal, minimally postdoc). Please register for the workshop by sending a project outline (1, max. 2 pages) by 23 June 2017 to Stephan Verschoor (Link auf E-Mailsverschoor@fsw.leidenuniv.nl). More information on the workshop and registration can be found under the programme’s homepage. On this website you can also find the full text of the SPP-proposal with more detailed information on the programme.

Participation in the workshop is not mandatory for an application in this programme.

Further information

For detailed information please refer to the programme’s homepage:

Please submit the proposal via the electronic elan system:

Please note the general information and guidelines for proposals at:

Contact person for questions concerning the Priority Programme:

Contact person for information on submitting proposals and the review process:


This text is available at Interner Linkwww.dfg.de/foerderung/info_wissenschaft/2017/info_wissenschaft_17_24/. Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item.