Thursday, April 05, 2007

Self and social cognition in the brain

Uddin et al. speculate in Trends in Cognitive Science (Volume 11, Issue 4 , April 2007, Pages 153-157) about the respective roles of cortical midline structures (CMS) and frontoparietal mirror neurons (MNS) in evaluation of self and others. Below I relay one of their summary paragraphs, and the PDF which contains images of relevant brain regions can be obtained HERE.
It has recently been proposed that internally oriented processes that focus on one's own or others’ mental states rely on cortical midline structures, whereas externally focused processes based on one's own or others’ visible features and actions rely on lateral frontoparietal networks. We suggest here a similar distinction, which might further reconcile disparate findings with regard to the various proposed functions of cortical midline structures, while incorporating what is known about the role of the human mirror-neuron system in social cognition. Whereas there is mounting evidence that the right frontoparietal system is involved in representing the physical, embodied self (in addition to its role in understanding the actions of others), the cortical midline structures that comprise the default-mode network seem to be more involved in maintaining a self-representation in evaluative terms, which requires self-referential processing and understanding of others’ mental states. We speculate that the CMS might support evaluative simulation in the same way that the MNS supports motor simulation. This distinction serves as a practical division of labor between two networks that are specialized for two related processes that are crucial to navigating the social world. The mirror-neuron system provides the essential physical other-to-self mapping that is necessary for comprehending physical actions of intentional agents, whereas cortical midline structures maintain and support processes that are related to understanding complex psychological aspects of others, such as attitudes, perhaps by simulation of one's own attitudes.

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