The neural correlates of direct and reflected self-knowledge

Neuroimage. 2005 Dec;28(4):797-814. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2005.06.069. Epub 2005 Nov 14.


Socrates said that in order to lead a balanced life one must, "know thyself." In two fMRI experiments, the present study examined the mechanisms mediating two ways in which the self can be known: through direct appraisals (i.e., an individual's own self-beliefs) and reflected appraisals (i.e., an individual's perception of how others view him or her). Experiment 1 examined the common and distinct neural bases of direct appraisals of the self, close others, and normative judgments of trait desirability. All three judgment types activated medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) to a similar degree. Experiment 2 examined the common and distinct neural bases of (1) direct appraisals of self, a close other or a non-close other, and (2) reflected appraisals made from the perspective of a close or a non-close other. Consistent with Experiment 1, all judgment types activated MPFC. Direct appraisals of the self as compared to others more strongly recruited MPFC and right rostrolateral PFC. Direct appraisals as compared to reflected appraisals recruited regions associated with a first-person perspective (posterior cingulate), whereas reflected as compared to direct appraisals recruited regions associated with emotion and memory (insula, orbitofrontal, and temporal cortex). These results support models suggesting that MPFC mediates meta-cognitive processes that may be recruited for direct and reflected self appraisals depending upon the demands of a specific task.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Personality
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Perception