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The role of self–other distinction in understanding others' mental and emotional states: Neurocognitive mechanisms in children and adults

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Steinbeis,  Nikolaus
Department of Developmental and Educational Psychology, Institute of Psychology, Leiden University, the Netherlands;
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Steinbeis, N. (2016). The role of self–other distinction in understanding others' mental and emotional states: Neurocognitive mechanisms in children and adults. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 371(1688): 20150547. doi:10.1098/rstb.2015.0074.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002B-2E3C-B
Abstract
Social interactions come with the fundamental problem of trying to understand others' mental and affective states while under the overpowering influence of one's own concurrent thoughts and feelings. The ability to distinguish between simultaneous representations of others' current experiences as well as our own is crucial to navigate our complex social environments successfully. The developmental building blocks of this ability and how this is given rise to by functional and structural brain development remains poorly understood. In this review, I outline some of the key findings on the role of self–other distinction in understanding others' mental as well as emotional states in children and adults. I will begin by clarifying the crucial role for self–other distinction in avoiding egocentric attributions of one's own cognitive as well as affective states to others in adults and outline the underlying neural circuitry in overcoming such egocentricity. This will provide the basis for a discussion of the emergence of self–other distinction in early childhood as well as developmental changes therein throughout childhood and into adulthood. I will demonstrate that self–other distinction of cognitive and emotional states is already dissociable early in development. Concomitantly, I will show that processes of self–other distinction in cognitive and affective domains rely on adjacent but distinct neural circuitry each with unique connectivity profiles, presumably related to the nature of the distinction that needs to be made.