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J Neurosci. 2008 Jun 18;28(25):6502-7. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5712-07.2008.

Self in time: imagined self-location influences neural activity related to mental time travel.

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Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience, Brain Mind Institute, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.


Conscious awareness of the self as continuous through time is attributed to the human ability to remember the past and to predict the future, a cogitation that has been called "mental time travel" (MTT). MTT allows one to re-experience one's own past by subjectively "locating" the self to a previously experienced place and time, or to pre-experience an event by locating the self into the future. Here, we used a novel behavioral paradigm in combination with evoked potential mapping and electrical neuroimaging, revealing that MTT is composed of two different cognitive processes: absolute MTT, which is the location of the self to different points in time (past, present, or future), and relative MTT, which is the location of one's self with respect to the experienced event (relative past and relative future). These processes recruit a network of brain areas in distinct time periods including the occipitotemporal, temporoparietal, and anteromedial temporal cortices. Our findings suggest that in addition to autobiographical memory processes, the cognitive mechanisms of MTT also involve mental imagery and self-location, and that relative MTT, but not absolute MTT, is more strongly directed to future prediction than to past recollection.

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