Neural correlates of evaluating self and close-other in physical, academic and prosocial domains

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Abstract

Behavioral studies showed that self-concept can be distinguished into different domains, but few neuroimaging studies have investigated either domain-specific or valence-specific activity. Here, we investigated whether evaluating self- and mother-traits in three domains (physical, academic, prosocial) relies on similar or distinct brain regions. Additionally, we explored the topical discussion in the literature on whether vmPFC activity during self-evaluations is induced by valence or importance of traits. Participants evaluated themselves and their mothers on positive and negative traits in three domains. Across all domains, evaluating traits resulted in right dlPFC, left middle temporal cortex, bilateral thalamus, and right insula activity. For physical traits, we found specific neural activity in brain regions typically implicated in mentalizing (dmPFC, IPL). For academic traits, we found a brain region typically implicated in autobiographical memories (PCC), and for prosocial traits, social brain regions (temporal pole, TPJ) were activated. Importantly, these patterns were found for both self and mother evaluations. Regarding valence, rACC/vmPFC showed stronger activation for positive than for negative traits. Interestingly, activation in this region was stronger for highly important traits compared to low/neutral important traits. Thus, this study shows that distinct neural processes are activated for evaluating positive and negative traits in different domains.

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