Self-referential processing involves a complex set of cognitive functions, posing challenges to delineating its independent neural correlates. While self-referential processing has been considered functionally intertwined with episodic memory, the present study explores their overlap and dissociability. Standard tasks for self-referential processing and episodic memory were combined into a single fMRI experiment. Contrasting the effects of self-relatedness and retrieval success allowed for the two processes to be delineated. Stimuli judged as self-referential specifically activated the posterior cingulate/anterior precuneus, the medial prefrontal cortex, and an inferior division of the inferior parietal lobule. In contrast, episodic memory retrieval specifically involved the posterior precuneus, the right anterior prefrontal cortex, and a superior division of the inferior parietal lobule (extending into superior parietal lobule). Overlapping activations were found in intermediate zones in the precuneus and the inferior parietal lobule, but not in the prefrontal cortex. While our data show common networks for both processes in the medial and lateral parietal cortex, three functional differentiations were also observed: (1) an anterior-posterior differentiation within the medial parietal cortex; (2) a medial-anterolateral differentiation within the prefrontal cortex; and, (3) an inferior-superior differentiation within the lateral parietal cortex for self-referential processing versus episodic memory retrieval.
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