Self-specific processing in the default network: a single-pulse TMS study.
In examining neural processing specific to the self, primarily by contrasting self-related stimuli with non-self-related stimuli (i.e., self vs. other), neuroimaging studies have activated a consistent set of regions, including medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), precuneus, and right and left inferior parietal cortex. However, criticism has arisen that this network may not be specific to self-related processing, but instead reflects a more general aspect of cortical processing. For example, it is almost identical to the active network of the resting state, the "default" mode, when the subject is free to think about anything at all. We tested the self-specificity of this network by using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to briefly disrupt local cortical processing while subjects rated adjectives as like or unlike themselves or their best friend. Healthy volunteers show a self-reference effect (SRE) in this task, in which performance with self-related items is superior to that with other-related items. As individual adjectives appeared on a monitor, single-pulse TMS was applied at five different times relative to stimulus onset (SOA: stimulus onset asynchrony) ranging from 0 to 480 ms. In 18 subjects, TMS to left parietal cortex suppressed the SRE from 160 to 480 ms. SRE suppression occurred at later SOA with TMS to the right parietal cortex. In contrast, no effects were seen with TMS to MPFC. Together with our previous work, these results provide evidence for a self-specific processing system in which midline and lateral inferior parietal cortices, as elements of the default network, play a role in ongoing self-awareness.
Lou, HC; Luber, B; Stanford, A; Lisanby, SH
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