Journal Article

Activity in ventromedial prefrontal cortex during self-related processing: positive subjective value or personal significance?

Kyungmi Kim and Marcia K. Johnson

in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience

Volume 10, issue 4, pages 494-500
Published in print April 2015 | ISSN: 1749-5016
Published online June 2014 | e-ISSN: 1749-5024 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsu078
Activity in ventromedial prefrontal cortex during self-related processing: positive subjective value or personal significance?

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Well-being and subjective experience of a coherent world depend on our sense of ‘self’ and relations between the self and the environment (e.g. people, objects and ideas). The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC) is involved in self-related processing, and disrupted vMPFC activity is associated with disruptions of emotional/social functioning (e.g. depression and autism). Clarifying precise function(s) of vMPFC in self-related processing is an area of active investigation. In this study, we sought to more specifically characterize the function of vMPFC in self-related processing, focusing on two alternative accounts: (i) assignment of positive subjective value to self-related information and (ii) assignment of personal significance to self-related information. During functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), participants imagined owning objects associated with either their perceived ingroup or outgroup. We found that for ingroup-associated objects, vMPFC showed greater activity for objects with increased than decreased post-ownership preference. In contrast, for outgroup-associated objects, vMPFC showed greater activity for objects with decreased than increased post-ownership preference. Our findings support the idea that the function of vMPFC in self-related processing may not be to represent/evaluate the ‘positivity’ or absolute preference of self-related information but to assign personal significance to it based on its meaning/function for the self.

Keywords: self-related processing; ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC); personal significance; subjective value; self

Journal Article.  5536 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognition and Behavioural Neuroscience

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