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J Cogn Neurosci. 2012 Aug;24(8):1742-52. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00233. Epub 2012 Mar 27.

A meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging studies of self- and other judgments reveals a spatial gradient for mentalizing in medial prefrontal cortex.

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Department of Psychology, Columbia University, 324 Schermerhorn Hall, 1190 Amsterdam Ave. MC 5501, New York, NY 10027, USA.


The distinction between processes used to perceive and understand the self and others has received considerable attention in psychology and neuroscience. Brain findings highlight a role for various regions, in particular the medial PFC (mPFC), in supporting judgments about both the self and others. We performed a meta-analysis of 107 neuroimaging studies of self- and other-related judgments using multilevel kernel density analysis [Kober, H., & Wager, T. D. Meta-analyses of neuroimaging data. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews, 1, 293-300, 2010]. We sought to determine what brain regions are reliably involved in each judgment type and, in particular, what the spatial and functional organization of mPFC is with respect to them. Relative to nonmentalizing judgments, both self- and other judgments were associated with activity in mPFC, ranging from ventral to dorsal extents, as well as common activation of the left TPJ and posterior cingulate. A direct comparison between self- and other judgments revealed that ventral mPFC as well as left ventrolateral PFC and left insula were more frequently activated by self-related judgments, whereas dorsal mPFC, in addition to bilateral TPJ and cuneus, was more frequently activated by other-related judgments. Logistic regression analyses revealed that ventral and dorsal mPFC lay at opposite ends of a functional gradient: The z coordinates reported in individual studies predicted whether the study involved self- or other-related judgments, which were associated with increasingly ventral or dorsal portions of mPFC, respectively. These results argue for a distributed rather than localizationist account of mPFC organization and support an emerging view on the functional heterogeneity of mPFC.

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