Experiencing past and future personal events: Functional neuroimaging evidence on the neural bases of mental time travel

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Abstract

Functional MRI was used in healthy subjects to investigate the existence of common neural structures supporting re-experiencing the past and pre-experiencing the future. Past and future events evocation appears to involve highly similar patterns of brain activation including, in particular, the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior regions and the medial temporal lobes. This result seems to support the view of a common neurocognitive system, which would allow humans to mentally travel through time. Past events recollection was associated with greater amplitude of hippocampal and anterior medial prefrontal hemodynamic responses. This result is discussed in terms of the involvement of the self in the conscious experience of past and future events representations. More generally, our data provide new evidence in favour of the idea that re- and pre-experiencing past and future events may rely on similar cognitive capacities.

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