Abstract

This study examines whether the cognitive and affective components of self-reflection can be dissociated using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Using a simple paradigm in which subjects judged the personal relevance of personality characteristics that were either favorable (e.g., “honest”) or unfavorable (e.g., “lazy”, we found that distinct neural circuits in adjacent regions of the prefrontal cortex subserve cognitive and emotional aspects of self-reflection. The medial prefrontal cortex responded only to material that was self-descriptive, and this did not differ as a function of the valence of the trait. When material was judged to be self-relevant, the valence of the material was resolved in an adjacent region of ventral anterior cingulate. The nature of self is one of the most enduring questions in science, and researchers are now beginning to be able to decompose the neural operations that give rise to a unitary sense of self.

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