Neural correlates of processing "self-conscious" vs. "basic" emotions. Academic Article uri icon


  • Self-conscious emotions are prevalent in our daily lives and play an important role in both normal and pathological behavior. Despite their immense significance, the neural substrates that are involved in the processing of such emotions are surprisingly under-studied. In light of this, we conducted an fMRI study in which participants thought of various personal events which elicited feelings of negative and positive self-conscious (i.e., guilt, pride) or basic (i.e., anger, joy) emotions. We performed a conjunction analysis to investigate the neural correlates associated with processing events that are related to self-conscious vs. basic emotions, irrespective of valence. The results show that processing self-conscious emotions resulted in activation within frontal areas associated with self-processing and self-control, namely, the mPFC extending to the dACC, and within the lateral-dorsal prefrontal cortex. Processing basic emotions resulted in activation throughout relatively phylogenetically-ancient regions of the cortex, namely in visual and tactile processing areas and in the insular cortex. Furthermore, self-conscious emotions differentially activated the mPFC such that the negative self-conscious emotion (guilt) was associated with a more dorsal activation, and the positive self-conscious emotion (pride) was associated with a more ventral activation. We discuss how these results shed light on the nature of mental representations and neural systems involved in self-reflective and affective processing.

publication date

  • January 1, 2016