Neural substrates of self-referential processing in Chinese Buddhists

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2010 Jun;5(2-3):332-9. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsp027. Epub 2009 Jul 20.


Our recent work showed that self-trait judgment is associated with increased activity in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) in non-religious Chinese, but in the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) in Chinese Christians. The current work further investigated neural substrates of self-referential processing in Chinese Buddhists. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we scanned 14 Chinese Buddhists, while they conducted trait judgments of the self, Zhu Rongji (the former Chinese premier), Sakyamuni (the Buddhist leader) and Jesus (the Christian leader). We found that, relative to Zhu Rongji judgment, self-judgment in Buddhist participants failed to generate increased activation in the VMPFC but induced increased activations in the DMPFC/rostral anterior cingulate cortex, midcingulate and the left frontal/insular cortex. Self-judgment was also associated with decreased functional connectivity between the DMPFC and posterior parietal cortex compared with Zhu Rongji judgment. The results suggest that Buddhist doctrine of No-self results in weakened neural coding of stimulus self-relatedness in the VMPFC, but enhanced evaluative processes of self-referential stimuli in the DMPFC. Moreover, self-referential processing in Buddhists is characterized by monitoring the conflict between the doctrine of No-self and self-focus thinking during self-trait judgment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Buddhism / psychology*
  • China
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Self Concept*
  • Young Adult