Neural substrates of socioemotional self-awareness in neurodegenerative disease

Marc Sollberger*, Howard J. Rosen, Tal Shany-Ur, Jerin Ullah, Christine M. Stanley, Victor Laluz, Michael W. Weiner, Stephen M. Wilson, Bruce L. Miller, Katherine P. Rankin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Background: Neuroimaging studies examining neural substrates of impaired self-awareness in patients with neurodegenerative diseases have shown divergent results depending on the modality (cognitive, emotional, behavioral) of awareness. Evidence is accumulating to suggest that self-awareness arises from a combination of modality-specific and large-scale supramodal neural networks. Methods: We investigated the structural substrates of patients' tendency to overestimate or underestimate their own capacity to demonstrate empathic concern for others. Subjects' level of empathic concern was measured using the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, and subject-informant discrepancy scores were used to predict regional atrophy pattern, using voxel-based morphometry analysis. Of the 102 subjects, 83 were patients with neurodegenerative diseases such as behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) or semantic variant primary progressive aphasia (svPPA); the other 19 were healthy older adults. Results: bvFTD and svPPA patients typically overestimated their level of empathic concern compared to controls, and overestimating one's empathic concern predicted damage to predominantly right-hemispheric anterior infero-lateral temporal regions, whereas underestimating one's empathic concern showed no neuroanatomical basis. Conclusions: These findings suggest that overestimation and underestimation of one's capacity for empathic concern cannot be interpreted as varying degrees of the same phenomenon, but may arise from different pathophysiological processes. Damage to anterior infero-lateral temporal regions has been associated with semantic self-knowledge, emotion processing, and social perspective taking; neuropsychological functions partly associated with empathic concern itself. These findings support the hypothesis that-at least in the socioemotional domain-neural substrates of self-awareness are partly modality-specific.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)201-214
Number of pages14
JournalBrain and Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Affective perspective taking
  • Dementia
  • Empathy
  • Infero-lateral temporal cortex
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Semantic self-knowledge
  • Unawareness
  • Voxel-based morphometry


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