Article

Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 330-345

The precuneus and the insula in self-attributional processes

  • Maurice CabanisAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Philipps University of Marburg Email author 
  • , Martin PykaAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Philipps University of MarburgMercator Research Group “Structure of Memory”, Faculty of Psychology, Ruhr-Universität
  • , Stephanie MehlAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Philipps University of Marburg
  • , Bernhard W. MüllerAffiliated withClinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Duisburg-Essen
  • , Stephanie Loos-JankowiakAffiliated withClinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Duisburg-Essen
  • , Georg WintererAffiliated withCologne Center for Genomics (CCG), University of Cologne
  • , Wolfgang WölwerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Medical Faculty, University of Düsseldorf
  • , Francesco MussoAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Medical Faculty, University of Düsseldorf
  • , Stefan KlingbergAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, University of Tübingen
    • , Alexander M. RappAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, University of Tübingen
    • , Karin LangohrAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, University of Tübingen
    • , Georg WiedemannAffiliated withMedical Center Fulda, Hospital for Psychiatry and PsychotherapyDepartment of Psychiatry, Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, Goethe-University
    • , Jutta HerrlichAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, Goethe-University
    • , Henrik WalterAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Campus Mitte
    • , Michael WagnerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Philipps University of MarburgDepartment of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Bonn
    • , Knut SchnellAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Philipps University of MarburgDepartment of General Psychiatry, University of Heidelberg
    • , Kai VogeleyAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Philipps University of MarburgDepartment of Psychiatry, University of CologneInstitute of Neuroscience and Medicine, Cognitive Neurology Section INM3, Research Center Jülich
    • , Hanna KocklerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Philipps University of MarburgDepartment of Psychiatry, University of Cologne
    • , Nadim J. ShahAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Philipps University of MarburgInstitute of Neuroscience and Medicine, Medical Imaging Physics INM4, Research Centre JülichDepartment of Neurology, Faculty of Medicine, JARA, RWTH Aachen University
    • , Tony StöckerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Philipps University of MarburgInstitute of Neuroscience and Medicine, Medical Imaging Physics INM4, Research Centre Jülich
    • , Renate ThienelAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Philipps University of MarburgPriority Research Centre for Translational Neuroscience & Mental Health, University of Newcastle
    • , Katharina PaulyAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Philipps University of MarburgDepartment of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatic Medicine, Medical School, RWTH Aachen University
    • , Axel KrugAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Philipps University of Marburg
    • , Tilo KircherAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Philipps University of Marburg

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Abstract

Attributions are constantly assigned in everyday life. A well-known phenomenon is the self-serving bias: that is, people’s tendency to attribute positive events to internal causes (themselves) and negative events to external causes (other persons/circumstances). Here, we investigated the neural correlates of the cognitive processes implicated in self-serving attributions using social situations that differed in their emotional saliences. We administered an attributional bias task during fMRI scanning in a large sample of healthy subjects (n = 71). Eighty sentences describing positive or negative social situations were presented, and subjects decided via buttonpress whether the situation had been caused by themselves or by the other person involved. Comparing positive with negative sentences revealed activations of the bilateral posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). Self-attribution correlated with activation of the posterior portion of the precuneus. However, self-attributed positive versus negative sentences showed activation of the anterior portion of the precuneus, and self-attributed negative versus positive sentences demonstrated activation of the bilateral insular cortex. All significant activations were reported with a statistical threshold of p ≤ .001, uncorrected. In addition, a comparison of our fMRI task with data from the Internal, Personal and Situational Attributions Questionnaire, Revised German Version, demonstrated convergent validity. Our findings suggest that the precuneus and the PCC are involved in the evaluation of social events with particular regional specificities: The PCC is activated during emotional evaluation, the posterior precuneus during attributional evaluation, and the anterior precuneus during self-serving processes. Furthermore, we assume that insula activation is a correlate of awareness of personal agency in negative situations.

Keywords

Attribution theory Self-serving bias Self-attributional processes Precuneus Insula