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Neural correlates of self‐reflection

Sterling C. Johnson, Leslie C. Baxter, Lana S. Wilder, James G. Pipe, Joseph E. Heiserman, George P. Prigatano
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/awf181 1808-1814 First published online: 1 August 2002

Summary

The capacity to reflect on one’s sense of self is an important component of self‐awareness. In this paper, we investigate some of the neurocognitive processes underlying reflection on the self using functional MRI. Eleven healthy volunteers were scanned with echoplanar imaging using the blood oxygen level‐dependent contrast method. The task consisted of aurally delivered statements requiring a yes–no decision. In the experimental condition, participants responded to a variety of statements requiring knowledge of and reflection on their own abilities, traits and attitudes (e.g. ‘I forget important things’, ‘I’m a good friend’, ‘I have a quick temper’). In the control condition, participants responded to statements requiring a basic level of semantic knowledge (e.g. ‘Ten seconds is more than a minute’, ‘You need water to live’). The latter condition was intended to control for auditory comprehension, attentional demands, decision‐making, the motoric response, and any common retrieval processes. Individual analyses revealed consistent anterior medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate activation for all participants. The overall activity for the group, using a random‐effects model, occurred in anterior medial prefrontal cortex (t = 13.0, corrected P = 0.05; x, y, z, 0, 54, 8, respectively) and the posterior cingulate (t = 14.7, P = 0.02; x, y, z, –2, –62, 32, respectively; 967 voxel extent). These data are consistent with lesion studies of impaired awareness, and suggest that the medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortex are part of a neural system subserving self‐reflective thought.

  • Keywords: fMRI; medial prefrontal cortex; posterior cingulate; self‐awareness; self‐reflection
  • Abbreviation: AMPFC = anterior medial prefrontal cortex
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