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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2014 May;9(5):646-52. doi: 10.1093/scan/nst028. Epub 2013 Mar 11.

Brains creating stories of selves: the neural basis of autobiographical reasoning.

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Department of Psychology - Cognition and Behavior, University of Liège, Boulevard du Rectorat 3 (B33), 4000 Liège, Belgium.


Personal identity critically depends on the creation of stories about the self and one's life. The present study investigates the neural substrates of autobiographical reasoning, a process central to the construction of such narratives. During functional magnetic resonance imaging scanning, participants approached a set of personally significant memories in two different ways: in some trials, they remembered the concrete content of the events (autobiographical remembering), whereas in other trials they reflected on the broader meaning and implications of their memories (autobiographical reasoning). Relative to remembering, autobiographical reasoning recruited a left-lateralized network involved in conceptual processing [including the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), inferior frontal gyrus, middle temporal gyrus and angular gyrus]. The ventral MPFC--an area that may function to generate personal/affective meaning--was not consistently engaged during autobiographical reasoning across participants but, interestingly, the activity of this region was modulated by individual differences in interest and willingness to engage in self-reflection. These findings support the notion that autobiographical reasoning and the construction of personal narratives go beyond mere remembering in that they require deriving meaning and value from past experiences.


autobiographical memory; autobiographical reasoning; fMRI; self-defining memories; self-reflection

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