The Link between Social Cognition and Self-referential Thought in the Medial Prefrontal Cortex

Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 4.09). 09/2005; 17(8):1306-15. DOI: 10.1162/0898929055002418
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The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) has been implicated in seemingly disparate cognitive functions, such as understanding the minds of other people and processing information about the self. This functional overlap would be expected if humans use their own experiences to infer the mental states of others, a basic postulate of simulation theory. Neural activity was measured while participants attended to either the mental or physical aspects of a series of other people. To permit a test of simulation theory's prediction that inferences based on self-reflection should only be made for similar others, targets were subsequently rated for their degree of similarity to self. Parametric analyses revealed a region of the ventral mPFC--previously implicated in self-referencing tasks--in which activity correlated with perceived self/other similarity, but only for mentalizing trials. These results suggest that self-reflection may be used to infer the mental states of others when they are sufficiently similar to self.

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    • "[5] [6] [7] and the dorsal part of the middle frontal gyrus (BA46;) seem to mediate basic resonance mechanisms ad mirroring [9]. Concurrently , dorsal portions of the medial prefrontal cortex (BA8/9) are typically associated with higher mentalizing [2] [10] and reflective processes [11]. Nonetheless, despite the extent of applications in different situations, the great majority of these studies focused only on human–human context, even if we do not exclusively interact with other people: in fact, as part of our everyday life, we share our social contexts with also non-human animals. "
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    ABSTRACT: In the last years social neuroscience research attempted to identify the neural networks underlying the human ability to perceive others' emotions, a core process in establishing meaningful social bonds. A large amount of papers arose and identified common and specific empathy-based networks with respect to stimulus type and task. Despite the great majority of studies focused on human-human contexts, we do not establish relations with only other humans, but also with non-human animals. The aim of the present work was to explore the brain mechanisms involved in empathic concern for people who interacts with both peers and other species. Participants have been assessed by functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) while viewing pictures depicting humans interacting with both other men and women (human-human condition: HH), or with dogs and cats (human-animal: HA). Results showed that aggressive HH interactions elicited greater prefrontal activity (PFC) than HA ones while, when considering HA interactions, friendly ones were related to higher cortical activity. Finally, oxy (O2Hb) and deoxyhemoglobin (HHb) increasing related to the processing of aggressive interactions positively correlated with different empathic measures, within more specific brain regions. Results were elucidated with respect to available evidence on emotion perception, empathic neural mechanisms and their functional meaning for human-animal contexts. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
    Neuroscience Letters 08/2015; 605. DOI:10.1016/j.neulet.2015.07.020 · 2.03 Impact Factor
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    • "Despite the mind not being easy to describe or locate within the brain, it has generally become accepted that the prefrontal cortex is mostly responsible for consciousness and conscious actions [44]. Research has shed light on the importance of the medial frontal cortex (MFC) in cognitive control, intention, choice, and volition, which are all considered to be aspects of consciousness [45] [46] [47] [48]. "
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    ABSTRACT: The term, Mental Optometry, is newly developed concept that can be used to describe the interplay between mind, brain, and sensory interpretations. Taken from the premise of behavioral optometry and research explaining body orientation to physical field of vision, what we see or perceive with our mind’s eye, emotions and behaviors will also follow in the same manner. While not explicitly referred to in such a manner, cognitive, cognitive behavioral, and cognitive bias formation theories imply such a concept as being foundational to their systems. Mental Optometry arms the theorist and practitioner with a neurobiological empowered understanding of mood, emotion, thought, and interpretations of visual stimuli such that therapeutic interventions can be developed to assist patients in recognizing and altering skewed interpretations of what they think they see (the mind’s eye) – imagery that may deleteriously support negative cognitions leading to negative mood states.
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    • "Interestingly, the dFMC activation in our study was located slightly more rostrally than in previous inhibition studies, and was encompassed by parts of the anterior medial PFC that have been implicated in self-referential thought processes (e.g., Johnson et al. 2006; Mitchell et al. 2005). This could imply that the role of the dFMC in intentional inhibition is more general than previously assumed. "
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    ABSTRACT: Behavioral inhibition has classically been considered to rely upon a neural network centered at the right inferior frontal cortex [rIFC; Aron et al. (8:170–177, 2004; 18:177–185, 2014)]. However, the vast majority of inhibition studies have entailed exogenous stop signals instructing participants to withhold responding. More recent work has begun to examine the neural underpinnings of endogenous inhibition, revealing a distinct cortical basis in the dorsal fronto-median cortex [dFMC; Brass and Haggard (27:9141–9145, 2007); Kühn et al. (30:2834–3843, 2009)]. Yet, contrary to everyday experiences of voluntary behavioral suppression, the paradigms employed to investigate action inhibition have thus far been somewhat artificial, and involve little persuasive motivation to act. Accordingly, the present fMRI study seeks to compare and contrast intentional with instructed inhibition in a novel pain paradigm that recruits ‘hot’ incentive response systems. Participants received increasing thermal stimulation to their inner wrists, and were required to occasionally withhold their natural impulse to withdraw from the compelling pain sensation at peak temperature, in both instructed and free-choice conditions. Consistent with previous research, we observed inhibition-related activity in the dFMC and the rIFC. However, these regions displayed equivalent activation levels for both inhibition types. These data extend previous research by demonstrating that under ecologically valid conditions with a strong motivation to act, both stopping networks operate in concert to enable suppression of unwanted behavior.
    Brain Structure and Function 12/2014; DOI:10.1007/s00429-014-0972-9 · 5.62 Impact Factor
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