Distinct and common aspects of physical and psychological self-representation in the brain: A meta-analysis of self-bias in facial and self-referential judgements

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2016 Feb;61:197-207. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.12.003. Epub 2015 Dec 13.


The neural representation of self is a fundamental question for brain research. Employing activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analyses, we assessed the commonalities and distinctions between different components of the self by focusing on the 'physical' self and the 'psychological' self --assessed respectively through face processing and self-referential tasks. We first conducted ALE meta-analyses by computing the convergence of findings on brain activation in self-face recognition and self-referential studies respectively. Contrast and conjunction analyses of these two meta-analytic results were then applied to extract the distinctions and commonalities in self-face and self-reference tasks. Facial self processing was particularly associated with lateral brain regions with a right hemispheric dominance, while processing psychological self predominantly activated cortical midline structures, more specifically the anterior cingulate cortex/superior frontal cortex. In contrast, the conjunction analyses showed that the two aspects of self-processing recruit the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the left inferior frontal gyrus extending to the insula. A framework including both distinct and common neural representation of selfs is discussed.

Keywords: ALE; Self; Self-face; Self-reference.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Humans
  • Judgment / physiology*
  • Likelihood Functions*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Self Concept