Mental travel in the person domain

Mordechai Hayman, Shahar Arzy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


“Mental travel” is a cognitive concept embodying the human capacity to intentionally disengage from the here and now, and mentally experience the world from different perspectives. We explored how individuals mentally “travel” to the point of view (POV) of other people in varying levels of personal closeness and from these perspectives process these people’s social network. Under fMRI, participants were asked to “project” themselves to the POVs of four different people: a close other, a nonclose other, a famous-person, and their own-self, and rate the level of affiliation (closeness) to different individuals in the respective social network. Participants were always faster making judgments from their own POV compared with other POVs (self-projection effect) and for people who were personally closer to their adopted POV (social-distance effect). Brain activity at the medial prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex in the self-POV was higher, compared with all other conditions. Activity at the right temporoparietal junction and medial parietal cortex was found to distinguish between the personally related (self, close, and nonclose others) and unrelated (famous-person) people. No difference was found between mental travel to the POVs of close and nonclose others. Regardless of POV, the precuneus, anterior cingulate cortex, prefrontal cortex, and temporoparietal junction distinguished between close and distant individuals within the different social networks. Representational similarity analysis implicated the left retrosplenial cortex as crucial for social distance processing across all POVs. These distinctions suggest several constraints regarding our ability to adopt others’ POV and process not only ours but also other people’s social networks and stress the importance of proximity in social cognition. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Mental-travel, the ability to mentally imagine oneself in a different place and time, is a fundamental cognitive concept. Investigation of mental-travel in the social domain under fMRI revealed that a network of brain regions, largely overlapping the default-mode-network, is responsible for “traveling” to points of view of different others; moreover, this network distinguishes between closer and less-close others, suggesting that mental-travel is a rich dynamical process, encompassing individuals in different proximities and these individuals’ social network.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)464-476
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number7
StatePublished - 31 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 the American Physiological Society.


  • Cognitive distance
  • FMRI
  • Self-projection
  • Social
  • Theory of mind


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