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Unconscious Neural Specificity for 'Self ' and the Brainstem

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The self/non-self distinction is essential for survival, but its neural bases are poorly understood. Studies have sought neural specificity for 'self ' in cortical regions. However, behavioural evidence showing that humans are able to single out self-relevant information in the absence of awareness (e.g. during sleep) suggests that the cognitive self/non-self distinction might be rooted in subcortical structures involved in automatic, unconscious functions. Here we employ subliminal presentation of self and non-self faces and repetition suppression to show neural specificity for 'self ' in the brainstem reticular formation, providing the first evidence for self/non-self distinction in subcortical structures. Our finding suggests that the brainstem may act as a neural substrate for the sense of 'self '.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, Columbia University, 1161 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10027, Email:

Publication date: 2013-01-01

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