Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) has been implicated in seemingly disparate cognitive functions, such as understanding the minds of other people and processing information about the self. This functional overlap would be expected if humans use their own experiences to infer the mental states of others, a basic postulate of simulation theory. Neural activity was measured while participants attended to either the mental or physical aspects of a series of other people. To permit a test of simulation theory's prediction that inferences based on self-reflection should only be made for similar others, targets were subsequently rated for their degree of similarity to self. Parametric analyses revealed a region of the ventral mPFC—previously implicated in self-referencing tasks—in which activity correlated with perceived self/other similarity, but only for mentalizing trials. These results suggest that self-reflection may be used to infer the mental states of others when they are sufficiently similar to self.