Reflective self-awareness and conscious states: PET evidence for a common midline parietofrontal core.
A recent meta-analysis has shown precuneus, angular gyri, anterior cingulate gyri, and adjacent structures to be highly metabolically active in support of resting consciousness. We hypothesize that these regions constitute a functional network of reflective self-awareness thought to be a core function of consciousness. Seven normal volunteers were asked to think intensely on how they would describe the personality traits and physical appearance of themselves and a neutral reference person known to all the subjects (the Danish Queen). During each of the four conditions cerebral blood flow distribution was measured by the intravenous H(2)(15)O PET scanning technique. During scanning, no sensory or motor activity was intended. After each scan, the subjects reported the contents of their thoughts during the scan to ascertain that the instructions had been followed. The results confirmed our hypothesis: Statistical parametric mapping showed differential activity in precuneus and angular gyri during reflection on own personality traits and in anterior cingulate gyri during reflection on own physical traits. Connectivity analysis of synchrony showed these regions to be functionally connected during reflective self-awareness. The commonality between the neural networks of the resting conscious state and self-awareness reflects the phenomenological concept of a fundamental contribution of reflective self-awareness to the contents and coherence of the conscious state.