The radiation of autonoetic consciousness in cognitive neuroscience: A functional neuroanatomy perspective

Amnon Dafni-Merom, Shahar Arzy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


One of Endel Tulving's most important contributions to memory research is the coupling of self-knowing consciousness (or “autonoesis”) with episodic memory. According to Tulving, autonoetic episodic memory enables the uniquely human neurocognitive operation of “mental time travel”, which is the ability to deliberately “project” oneself to a specific time and place to remember personally experienced events that occurred in the past and simulate personal happenings that may occur in the future. These ideas ignited an explosion of research in the years to follow, leading to the development of several related concepts and theories regarding the role of the human self in memory and prospection. In this paper, we first explore the expansion of the concept of autonoetic consciousness in the cognitive neuroscience literature as well as the formulation of derivative concepts and theories. Subsequently, we review such concepts and theories including episodic memory, mental time travel, episodic simulation, scene construction and self-projection. In view of Tulving's emphasis of the temporal and spatial context of the experience, we also review the cognitive operation involved in “travel” (or “projection”) in these domains as well as in the social domain. We describe the underlying brain networks and processes involved, their overlapping activations and involvement in giving rise to the experience. Meta-analysis of studies investigating the underlying functional neuroanatomy of these theories revealed main overlapping activations in sub-regions of the medial prefrontal cortex, the precuneus, retrosplenial cortex, temporoparietal junction and medial temporal lobe. Dissection of these results enables to infer and quantify the interrelations in between the different theories as well as with respect to Tulving's original ideas.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number107477
StatePublished - Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Yorai Ron and Noam Saadon-Grosman for assistance with data analysis. The study was supported by the Israel Science Foundation ( 1306/18 ) and the Alzheimer's Foundation of America.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd


  • Autonoesis
  • Constructive episodic simulation
  • Episodic memory
  • Mental lines
  • Mental time travel
  • Scene construction
  • Self-projection


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