Brain activity and functional coupling changes associated with self-reference effect during both encoding and retrieval

PLoS One. 2014 Mar 7;9(3):e90488. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090488. eCollection 2014.


Information that is processed with reference to oneself, i.e. Self-Referential Processing (SRP), is generally associated with better remembering compared to information processed in a condition not related to oneself. This positive effect of the self on subsequent memory performance is called as Self-Reference Effect (SRE). The neural basis of SRE is still poorly understood. The main goal of the present work was thus to highlight brain changes associated with SRE in terms of activity and functional coupling and during both encoding and retrieval so as to assess the relative contribution of both processes to SRE. For this purpose, we used an fMRI event-related self-referential paradigm in 30 healthy young subjects and measured brain activity during both encoding and retrieval of self-relevant information compared to a semantic control condition. We found that SRE was associated with brain changes during the encoding phase only, including both greater activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, and greater functional coupling between these brain regions and the posterior cingulate cortex. These findings highlight the contribution of brain regions involved in both SRP and episodic memory and the relevance of the communication between these regions during the encoding process as the neural substrates of SRE. This is consistent with the idea that SRE reflects a positive effect of the reactivation of self-related memories on the encoding of new information in episodic memory.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Young Adult

Grant support

This work was supported by the Fondation Plan Alzheimer (Alzheimer Plan 2008–2012), Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR LONGVIE 2007), Région Basse Normandie, Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (Inserm) and Ministère de l'Enseignement Supérieur de la Recherche. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.