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
Source: OAI


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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    • "inferring the mental state of others (Barrett et al., 2007; Mitchell et al., 2005), and the OFC is thought to be involved in processing of social reinforcement, and therefore sensitive to EFEs (Rolls, 2004). Moreover, the FFA may also be involved in the processing of emotional aspects of EFEs, given its direct feedback connection from the amygdala (Vuilleumier et al., 2004). "
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    ABSTRACT: Deciphering the social meaning of facial displays is a highly complex neurological process. The M170, an event related field component of MEG recording, like its EEG counterpart N170, was repeatedly shown to be associated with structural encoding of faces. However, the scope of information encoded during the M170 time window is still being debated. We investigated the neuronal origin of facial processing of integrated social rank cues (SRCs) and emotional facial expressions (EFEs) during the M170 time interval. Participants viewed integrated facial displays of emotion (happy, angry, neutral) and SRCs (indicated by upward, downward, or straight head tilts). We found that the activity during the M170 time window is sensitive to both EFEs and SRCs. Specifically, highly prominent activation was observed in response to SRC connoting dominance as compared to submissive or egalitarian head cues. Interestingly, the processing of EFEs and SRCs appeared to rely on different circuitry. Our findings suggest that vertical head tilts are processed not only for their sheer structural variance, but as social information. Exploring the temporal unfolding and brain localization of non-verbal cues processing may assist in understanding the functioning of the social rank biobehavioral system.
    Neuropsychologia 09/2015; 78. DOI:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.09.030 · 3.30 Impact Factor
    • "[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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