I think therefore I am: Rest-related prefrontal cortex neural activity is involved in generating the sense of self. Academic Article uri icon


  • Abstract The sense of self has always been a major focus in the psychophysical debate. It has been argued that this complex ongoing internal sense cannot be explained by any physical measure and therefore substantiates a mind-body differentiation. Recently, however, neuro-imaging studies have associated self-referential spontaneous thought, a core-element of the ongoing sense of self, with synchronous neural activations during rest in the medial prefrontal cortex (PFC), as well as the medial and lateral parietal cortices. By applying deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) over human PFC before rest, we disrupted activity in this neural circuitry thereby inducing reports of lowered self-awareness and strong feelings of dissociation. This effect was not found with standard or sham TMS, or when stimulation was followed by a task instead of rest. These findings demonstrate for the first time a critical, causal role of intact rest-related PFC activity patterns in enabling integrated, enduring, self-referential mental processing.

publication date

  • January 1, 2015