Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Investigation of the neural correlates of the self has implicated a network of brain regions including the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), posterior cingulate (PCC), precuneus (pC), and inferior parietal lobule (IPL). At the same time, recent neuroimaging work has identified the Default Mode Network (DMN), a network of brain regions that are highly active at `rest' (without an active cognitive task). While the functional significance of the DMN remains unknown, converging evidence suggests that the DMN might be critical for self-referential processing (e.g., introspection). In this dissertation, I tested this hypothesis using a lesion approach. In the first experiment, I examined the critical role of the DMN hubs (MPFC, IPL) in autobiographical memory (AM) retrieval. I predicted that if the DMN hubs were critical for AM, then lesions to either the MPFC or IPL should result in AM retrieval impairments. I tested this prediction using the Iowa Autobiographical Memory Questionnaire (IAMQ), a questionnaire that assessed retrograde AM retrieval. In support of the prediction, lesions to the MPFC and IPL were associated with significant AM retrieval impairments. While not predicted, AM retrieval deficits were also associated with lesions in medial and lateral temporal cortices, regions also considered part of the DMN. In the second experiment, I tested the critical role of the DMN hubs in the self-reference effect (SRE), a well-known memory advantage conferred by self-related processing. I predicted that if the DMN hubs were critical for the SRE, then damage to the MPFC or IPL should diminish the effect. I used a standard personality trait judgment paradigm to test this prediction. In partial support of the prediction, I found that damage to the MPFC abolished the SRE with a "self" specific deficit. While IPL damage was associated with a diminished SRE, the effects were not significant. In the third experiment, I tested the hypothesis that the DMN is critical for accurate knowledge of one's personality. I predicted that if the DMN hubs are critical for accurate self-knowledge, then damage to either the MPFC or IPL should be associated with less accurate personality reports. In partial support of the prediction, MPFC and IPL groups demonstrated less accurate personality ratings. However, performance for all lesion groups was comparable and not significantly different from healthy subjects. In the fourth experiment, I sought to test the hypothesis that the DMN is critical for mind wandering (MW). I predicted that if the DMN hubs are critical for MW, then damage to the MPFC and IPL should result in decreased MW. To test this prediction, I used two approaches: 1) an experience sampling method (Sustained Attention to Response Task), and 2) a self-report measure (Imaginal Processes Inventory scale of MW). Contrary to my prediction, IPL lesions were associated with increased MW on the SART. By contrast, in support of the prediction, both MPFC and IPL lesions were associated with significant self-reported decreases in MW. Together, these experiments provide some evidence to support the hypothesis that the DMN is critical for self-referential processing. Future work might investigate the impact of DMN lesions on other self-processes (e.g., self-agency).
Copyright 2011 Carissa L. Philippi