Reflections of oneself: Neurocognitive evidence for dissociable forms of self-referential recollection

Bergström, Z.M., Vogelsang, D.A., Benoit, R., & Simons, J.S. (2015). Cerebral Cortex, 25, 2648-2657.

Research links the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) with a number of social cognitive processes that involve reflecting on oneself and other people. Here, we investigated how mPFC might support the ability to recollect information about oneself and others relating to previous experiences. Participants judged whether they had previously related stimuli conceptually to themselves or someone else, or whether they or another agent had performed actions. We uncovered a functional distinction between dorsal and ventral mPFC subregions based on information retrieved from episodic long-term memory. The dorsal mPFC was generally activated when participants attempted to retrieve social information about themselves and others, regardless of whether this information concerned the conceptual or agentic self or other. In contrast, a role was discerned for ventral mPFC during conceptual but not agentic self-referential recollection, indicating specific involvement in retrieving memories related to self-concept rather than bodily self. A subsequent recognition test for new items that had been presented during the recollection task found that conceptual and agentic recollection attempts resulted in differential incidental encoding of new information. Thus, we reveal converging fMRI and behavioral evidence for distinct neurocognitive forms of self-referential recollection, highlighting that conceptual and bodily aspects of self-reflection can be dissociated.