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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    • "Particularly, the present study focuses on the MPFC and posterior cingulate cortex (PPC) in the CMS. First, the MPFC is associated with self-referencing and selfevaluation [62] [63] [64], which are fundamental to moral decision making processes. These selfhoodrelated psychological processes enable people to consider and reflect upon their moral belief and value and to make a decision based on them [14] [20] [65]; moral decision making also would be moderated by these processes. "
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    ABSTRACT: The present study aims to examine the relationship between the cortical midline structures (CMS), which have been regarded to be associated with selfhood, and moral decision making processes at the neural level. Traditional moral psychological studies have suggested the role of moral self as the moderator of moral cognition, so activity of moral self would present at the neural level. The present study examined the interaction between the CMS and other moral-related regions by conducting psycho-physiological interaction analysis of functional images acquired while 16 subjects were solving moral dilemmas. Furthermore, we performed Granger causality analysis to demonstrate the direction of influences between activities in the regions in moral decision-making. We first demonstrate there are significant positive interactions between two central CMS seed regions—i.e., the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC)—and brain regions associated with moral functioning including the cerebellum, brainstem, midbrain, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex and anterior insula (AI); on the other hand, the posterior insula (PI) showed significant negative interaction with the seed regions. Second, several significant Granger causality was found from CMS to insula regions particularly under the moral-personal condition. Furthermore, significant dominant influence from the AI to PI was reported. Moral psychological implications of these findings are discussed. The present study demonstrated the significant interaction and influence between the CMS and morality-related regions while subject were solving moral dilemmas. Given that, activity in the CMS is significantly involved in human moral functioning.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2016 · Behavioural Brain Research
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    • "Many aspects of the self are socially constructed , in that they pertain to a valuation that is dependent upon social norms (e.g., " I am smart/stupid relative to my peers " , " I am a moral/immoral person " ). Indeed, much research shows that there is substantial overlap between the brain regions involved in processing social information and self-relevant information (e.g., Mitchell et al., 2005 ). This convergence was also evident in our study, wherein selfconscious emotions, once again, activated the mPFC. "
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    ABSTRACT: Self-conscious emotions are prevalent in our daily lives and play an important role in both normal and pathological behavior. Despite their immense significance, the neural substrates that are involved in the processing of such emotions are surprisingly under-studied. In light of this, we conducted an fMRI study in which participants thought of various personal events which elicited feelings of negative and positive self-conscious (i.e., guilt, pride) or basic (i.e., anger, joy) emotions. We performed a conjunction analysis to investigate the neural correlates associated with processing events that are related to self-conscious vs. basic emotions, irrespective of valence. The results show that processing self-conscious emotions resulted in activation within frontal areas associated with self-processing and self-control, namely, the mPFC extending to the dACC, and within the lateral-dorsal prefrontal cortex. Processing basic emotions resulted in activation throughout relatively phylogenetically-ancient regions of the cortex, namely in visual and tactile processing areas and in the insular cortex. Furthermore, self-conscious emotions differentially activated the mPFC such that the negative self-conscious emotion (guilt) was associated with a more dorsal activation, and the positive self-conscious emotion (pride) was associated with a more ventral activation. We discuss how these results shed light on the nature of mental representations and neural systems involved in self-reflective and affective processing.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2015 · Neuropsychologia
    • "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.
    No preview · Article · Sep 2015 · Neuropsychologia
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