Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Understanding one's own and other individual's emotional states is essential for maintaining emotional equilibrium and strong social bonds. Although the neural substrates supporting reflection upon one's own feelings have been investigated, no studies have directly examined attributions about the internal emotional states of others to determine whether common or distinct neural systems support these abilities. The present study sought to directly compare brain regions involved in judging one's own, as compared to another individual's, emotional state. Thirteen participants viewed mixed valence blocks of photos drawn from the International Affective Picture System while whole-brain fMRI data were collected. Preblock cues instructed participants to evaluate either their emotional response to each photo, the emotional state of the central figure in each photo, or (in a baseline condition) whether the photo was taken indoors or outdoors. Contrasts indicated (1) that both self and other judgments activated the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), the superior temporal gyrus, and the posterior cingulate/precuneus, (2) that self judgments selectively activated subregions of the MPFC and the left temporal cortex, whereas (3) other judgments selectively activated the left lateral prefrontal cortex (including Broca's area) and the medial occipital cortex. These results suggest (1) that self and other evaluation of emotion rely on a network of common mechanisms centered on the MPFC, which has been hypothesized to support mental state attributions in general, and (2) that medial and lateral PFC regions selectively recruited by self or other judgments may be involved in attention to, and elaboration of, internally as opposed to externally generated information.