Scroll to top

Cognitive Neuroscience of the Affective Self

December 16, 2016

Todd F. Heatherton, PhD
Lincoln Filene Professor in Human Relations, Psychological and Brain Sciences
Program Member, Cancer Control Research Program, Norris Cotton Cancer Center

About the Presentation: A key question in psychology and neuroscience is how activity in the brain gives rise to the unitary and coherent sense of self that exists across time and place. Neuroimaging research has emphasized the importance of a region in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) when people perform tasks that are relevant to the self.  An open question, however, is what exactly the MPFC does in contributing to the sense of self.  I propose that the search engine Google provides an analogy for MPFC functioning.   Google links together information from different Internet sites and tries to interpret what the searcher is looking for.  Accordingly, the Google model of self proposes that MPFC integrates and interprets the output of neural activity across widely distributed brain networks.  Such a model has implications for the affective experience of self, such as why people report low self-esteem or generalized anxiety.  I will describe a research study that examines how networks of brain activity are related to behavioral patterns that predict changes in mental health among college students.

About the Presenter: Todd F. Heatherton (PhD University of Toronto) is the Lincoln Filene Professor in Human Relations in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College.  His recent research takes a social brain sciences approach, which combines theories and methods of evolutionary psychology, social cognition, and cognitive neuroscience to examine the neural underpinnings of social behavior.  He is Associate Editor of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience and serves on many editorial boards and grant review panels.  He was elected President of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology in 2011 and has served on the executive committees of the Association of Researchers in Personality, and the International Society of Self & Identity.  He was name to Thompson Reuter’s ISIHighlyCited for Social Sciences in 2010, received the Award for Distinguished Service on Behalf of Social-Personality Psychology in 2005, and the Carol and Ed Diener Award for Outstanding Mid-Career Contributions to Personality Psychology, 2011.  He received the Petra Shattuck Award for Teaching Excellence from the Harvard Extension School in 1994, the McLane Fellowship from Dartmouth College in 1997, and the Friedman Family Fellowship from Dartmouth College in 2001.  He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.