Distinct regions of medial rostral prefrontal cortex supporting social and nonsocial functions

Gilbert, S.J., Williamson, I.D.M., Dumontheil, I., Simons, J.S., Frith, C.D., & Burgess, P.W. (2007). Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2, 217-226.

While some recent neuroimaging studies have implicated medial rostral prefrontal cortex (MPFC) in"mentalizing" and self-reflection, others have implicated this region in attention towards perceptualversus self-generated information. In order to reconcile these seemingly-contradictory findings, weused fMRI to investigate MPFC activity related to these two functions in a factorial design.Participants performed two separate tasks, each of which alternated between "stimulus-orientedphases", where participants at tended to task-relevant perceptual information, and "stimulus-independentphases", where participants performed the same tasks in the absence of suchinformation. In half of the blocks ("mentalizing condition"), participants were instructed that theywere performing these tasks in collaboration with an experimenter; in other blocks ("nonmentalizingcondition") participants were instructed that the experimenter was not involved. In fact,the tasks were identical in these conditions. Neuroimaging data revealed adjacent but clearly distinctregions of activation within MPFC related to a) mentalizing versus non-mentalizing conditions(relatively caudal/superior) and b) stimulus-oriented versus stimulus-independent attention (relativelyrostral/inferior). These results generalized from one task to the other, suggesting a new axis offunctional organization within MPFC.