The neural basis of semantic and episodic forms of self-knowledge: Insights from Functional Neuroimaging
Arnaud D'Argembeau and Eric Salmon; 2011
Throughout evolution, hominids have developed greater capacity to think about themselves in abstract and symbolic ways. This process has reached its apex in humans with the construction of a concept of self as a distinct entity with a personal history. This chapter provides a review of recent functional neuroimaging studies that have investigated the neural correlates of such "higher-level" aspects of the human self, focusing in particular on processes that allow individuals to consciously represent and reflect on their own personal attributes (semantic forms of self-knowledge) and experiences (episodic forms of self-knowledge). These studies point to the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) as a key neural structure for processing various kinds of self-referential information. We speculate that the MPFC may mediate dynamic processes that appraise and code the self-relatedness or self-relevance of information. This brain region may thus play a key role in creating the mental model of the self that is displayed in our mind at a given moment.