Skip to main content

Advertisement

Log in

Common and distinct networks for self-referential and social stimulus processing in the human brain

  • Original Article
  • Published:
Brain Structure and Function Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

Self-referential processing is a complex cognitive function, involving a set of implicit and explicit processes, complicating investigation of its distinct neural signature. The present study explores the functional overlap and dissociability of self-referential and social stimulus processing. We combined an established paradigm for explicit self-referential processing with an implicit social stimulus processing paradigm in one fMRI experiment to determine the neural effects of self-relatedness and social processing within one study. Overlapping activations were found in the orbitofrontal cortex and in the intermediate part of the precuneus. Stimuli judged as self-referential specifically activated the posterior cingulate cortex, the ventral medial prefrontal cortex, extending into anterior cingulate cortex and orbitofrontal cortex, the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, the ventral and dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, the left inferior temporal gyrus, and occipital cortex. Social processing specifically involved the posterior precuneus and bilateral temporo-parietal junction. Taken together, our data show, not only, first, common networks for both processes in the medial prefrontal and the medial parietal cortex, but also, second, functional differentiations for self-referential processing versus social processing: an anterior–posterior gradient for social processing and self-referential processing within the medial parietal cortex and specific activations for self-referential processing in the medial and lateral prefrontal cortex and for social processing in the temporo-parietal junction.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Similar content being viewed by others

References

  • Amodio DM, Frith CD (2006) Meeting of minds: the medial frontal cortex and social cognition. Nat Rev Neurosci 7:268–277

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Beer JS, Ochsner KN (2006) Social cognition: a multi level analysis. Brain Res 1079:98–105

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Carrington SJ, Bailey AJ (2009) Are there theory of mind regions in the brain? A review of the neuroimaging literature. Hum Brain Mapp 30:2313–2335

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Castelli F, Happe F, Frith U, Frith C (2000) Movement and mind: a functional imaging study of perception and interpretation of complex intentional movement patterns. Neuroimage 12:314–325

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Cavanna AE, Trimble MR (2006) The precuneus: a review of its functional anatomy and behavioural correlates. Brain 129:564–583

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Davidson D (2004) Subjektiv, intersubjektiv, objektiv. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt/Main

    Google Scholar 

  • Denny BT, Kober H, Wager TD, Ochsner KN (2012) A meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging studies of self- and other judgments reveals a spatial gradient for mentalizing in medial prefrontal cortex. J Cogn Neurosci 24:1742–1752

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Farrer C, Frith CD (2002) Experiencing oneself vs another person as being the cause of an action: the neural correlates of the experience of agency. Neuroimage 15:596–603

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Farrer C, Franck N, Georgieff N, Frith CD, Decety J, Jeannerod M (2003) Modulating the experience of agency: a positron emission tomography study. Neuroimage 18:324–333

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • First MB, Gibbon M, Spitzer RL, Williams JBW, Benjamin LS (1997) Structured clinical interview for DSM-IV Axis II personality disorders (SCID-II). American Psychiatric Press Inc, Washington DC

    Google Scholar 

  • First MB, Spitzer RL, Williams MG (1996) Structured clinical interview for DSM-IV axis I disorders. American Psychiatric Press Inc, Washington DC

    Google Scholar 

  • Forbes CE, Grafman J (2010) The role of the human prefrontal cortex in social cognition and moral judgment. Annu Rev Neurosci 33:299–324

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Gallagher II (2000) Philosophical conceptions of the self: implications for cognitive science. Trends Cogn Sci 4:14–21

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Gallese V, Goldman A (1998) Mirror neurons and the simulation theory of mind-reading. Trends Cogn Sci 2:493–501

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Heider F, Simmel M (1944) An experimental study of apparent behavior. AJP 57:243–259

    Google Scholar 

  • Kennedy DP, Adolphs R (2012) The social brain in psychiatric and neurological disorders. Trends Cogn Sci 16:559–572

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Keysers C, Gazzola V (2007) Integrating simulation and theory of mind: from self to social cognition. Trends Cogn Sci 11:194–196

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Kim H (2012) A dual-subsystem model of the brain’s default network: self-referential processing, memory retrieval processes, and autobiographical memory retrieval. Neuroimage 61:966–977

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lang PJ, Bradley MM, Cuthbert BN (2005) International affective picture system (IAPS): affective ratings of pictures and instruction manual Technical report A-6. Univerity of Florida, Gainsville

    Google Scholar 

  • Lawrence EJ, Shaw P, Giampietro VP, Surguladze S, Brammer MJ, David AS (2006) The role of ‘shared representations’ in social perception and empathy: an fMRI study. Neuroimage 29:1173–1184

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Legrand D, Ruby P (2009) What is self-specific? Theoretical investigation and critical review of neuroimaging results. Psychol Rev 116:252–282

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lehrl S (2005) Mehrfachwahl-Wortschatz-Intelligenztest MWT-B, 5th edn. Spitta Verlag, Balingen

    Google Scholar 

  • Leube DT, Knoblich G, Erb M, Kircher TT (2003) Observing one’s hand become anarchic: an fMRI study of action identification. Conscious Cogn 12:597–608

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lombardo MV, Chakrabarti B, Bullmore ET, Wheelwright SJ, Sadek SA, Suckling J, Baron-Cohen S (2009) Shared neural circuits for mentalizing about the self and others. J Cogn Neurosci 22:1623–1635

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lou HC et al (2004) Parietal cortex and representation of the mental Self Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101:6827–6832

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Margulies DS et al (2009) Precuneus shares intrinsic functional architecture in humans and monkeys Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 106:20069–20074

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Meffert H, Blanken L, Blair KS, White SF, Blair JR (2013) The influence of valence and decision difficulty on self-referential processing. Front Hum Neurosci 7:46

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Meltzoff AN, Brooks R, Shon AP, Rao RP (2001) “Social” robots are psychological agents for infants: a test of gaze following. Neural Netw 23:966–972

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mitchell JP, Cloutier J, Banaji MR, Macrae CN (2006) Medial prefrontal dissociations during processing of trait diagnostic and nondiagnostic person information. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 1:49–55

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Northoff G, Bermpohl F (2004) Cortical midline structures and the self. Trends Cogn Sci 8:102–107

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Northoff G, Heinzel A, de Greck M, Bermpohl F, Dobrowolny H, Panksepp J (2006) Self-referential processing in our brain—a meta-analysis of imaging studies on the self. Neuroimage 31:440–457

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Northoff G et al (2009) Differential parametric modulation of self-relatedness and emotions in different brain regions. Hum Brain Mapp 30:369–382

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Ochsner KN, Beer JS, Robertson ER, Cooper JC, Gabrieli JD, Kihsltrom JF, D’Esposito M (2005) The neural correlates of direct and reflected self-knowledge. Neuroimage 28:797–814

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Oldfield RC (1971) The assessment and analysis of handedness: the Edinburgh inventory. Neuropsychologia 9:97–113

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Olsson A, Ochsner KN (2008) The role of social cognition in emotion. Trends Cogn Sci 12:65–71

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Peelen MV, Downing PE (2007) The neural basis of visual body perception. Nat Rev Neurosci 8:636–648

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Platek SM, Keenan JP, Gallup GG Jr, Mohamed FB (2004) Where am I? The neurological correlates of self and other Brain. Res Cogn Brain Res 19:114–122

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sajonz B et al (2010) Delineating self-referential processing from episodic memory retrieval: common and dissociable networks. Neuroimage 50:1606–1617

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Satpute AB, Lieberman MD (2006) Integrating automatic and controlled processes into neurocognitive models of social cognition. Brain Res 1079:86–97

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Saxe R, Wexler A (2005) Making sense of another mind: the role of the right temporo-parietal junction. Neuropsychologia 43:1391–1399

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Saxe R, Moran JM, Scholz J, Gabrieli J (2006) Overlapping and non-overlapping brain regions for theory of mind and self reflection in individual subjects. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 1:229–234

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Schilbach L, Eickhoff SB, Rotarska-Jagiela A, Fink GR, Vogeley K (2008) Minds at rest? Social cognition as the default mode of cognizing and its putative relationship to the “default system” of the brain. Conscious Cogn 17:457–467

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Schilbach L, Timmermans B, Reddy V, Costall A, Bente G, Schlicht T, Vogeley K (2013) Toward a second-person neuroscience Behav Brain Sci 36:393–414

    Google Scholar 

  • Sui J, Humphreys GW (2013) Self-referential processing is distinct from semantic elaboration: evidence from long-term memory effects in a patient with amnesia and semantic impairments. Neuropsychologia 51:2663–2673

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Summerfield C, Egner T, Greene M, Koechlin E, Mangels J, Hirsch J (2006) Predictive codes for forthcoming perception in the frontal cortex. Science 314:1311–1314

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Tomasello M (2001) The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition. Harvard University Press, Cambridge/London

    Google Scholar 

  • Tomasello M (2003) Constructing a language. a usage-based theory of language acquisition. Harvard University Press, Cambridge/London

    Google Scholar 

  • Van Overwalle F (2009) Social cognition and the brain: a meta-analysis. Hum Brain Mapp 30:829–858

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dorrit Herold.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

Dorrit Herold: Research Grants: “Elsa-Neumann”-scholarship by the state Berlin. Stephanie Spengler: no conflict of interest to declare. Bastian Sajonz: no conflict of interest to declare. Tatiana Usnich: no conflict of interest to declare. Felix Bermpohl: Research grants: research grant by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF01KR1207C, 01EE1404G), research grant by the German Research Foundation (DFG BE2611/2-1). Financial support: financial support for attending symposia by Eli Lilly Company.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Herold, D., Spengler, S., Sajonz, B. et al. Common and distinct networks for self-referential and social stimulus processing in the human brain. Brain Struct Funct 221, 3475–3485 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-015-1113-9

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-015-1113-9

Keywords

Navigation