Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Meeting George Bush versus Meeting Cinderella

The rest of the title of this article by von Cramon and Schubotz is "The Neural Response When Telling Apart What is Real from What is Fictional in the Context of Our Reality." Our ability to distinguish fact from fiction emerges early during our development, and by the age of 5, we not only differentiate reality from fiction but can also distinguish between different fictional worlds. The neural correlates underlying this ability are unknown. The authors obtain fMRI images showing significant difference in brain activity while processing real versus fictional conditions. The graphic is from the paper just to include a pretty picture, I'll spare you the details, because they really don't add all that much to the bottom line:
The processing of real and fictional scenarios activated a common set of regions including medial-temporal lobe structures. When the scenarios involved real people, brain regions associated with episodic memory retrieval and self-referential thinking, the anterior prefrontal cortex and the precuneus/posterior cingulate, were more active. In contrast, areas along the left lateral inferior frontal gyrus (shown in the graphic), associated with semantic memory retrieval, were implicated for scenarios with fictional characters. This implies that there is a fine distinction in the manner in which conceptual information concerning real persons in contrast to fictional characters is represented. In general terms, the findings suggest that fiction relative to reality tends to be represented in more factual terms, whereas our representations of reality relative to fiction are colored by personal subjectivity. What modulates our understanding of the relative difference between reality and fiction seems to be whether such character-type information is coded in self-relevant terms or not.

The authors note their agreement with the statement of William James: "In the relative sense, then, the sense in which we contrast reality with simple unreality, ... reality means simply relation to our emotional and active life

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