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Conscious self-monitoring: from molecule to culture


Biological evolution has led to more and more complex organisms, including humans with highly developed brains. This has facilitated adaptation to changing circumstances through conscious self-monitoring, allowing individuals to learn from experiences and to form cultural entities. More recently, a paralimbic brain network instrumental in self-awareness has been defined. It consists of two medially located hubs regulated by dopamine via GABAergic neurons. Its function requires multiple oscillations and is therefore highly oxygen dependent and vulnerable in penuria. This predicament may lead to major disorders like schizophrenia, addiction, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and autism. Recent observations have shown that the relative activity in the medial paralimbic network of self-awareness and the angular gyri is different between Westerners and Orientals, with more angular activity in the latter group. The difference seems to reflect less egocentricity in oriental cultures compared to western culture. Alignment of activity pattern among individuals is a general feature of each culture, reflecting a continuum between intrinsic cognition and external environment. In disease, it is therefore important to focus not only on intrinsic cognition and external environment separately, but also on their interaction. We here propose that dopamine–gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) interacting hubs in the network are a cornerstone not only for health, but even human culture.

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The authors are grateful for the help by Henriette Vuust in formatting the manuscript.


This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

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Correspondence to Hans C. Lou.

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Rosenstand, A.F., Rømer Thomsen, K. & Lou, H.C. Conscious self-monitoring: from molecule to culture. Cult. Brain (2022).

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  • Self-awareness
  • Culture
  • Dopamine, GABA
  • Paralimbic