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Keywords:

  • episodic thinking;
  • face;
  • functional magnetic resonance imaging;
  • human;
  • mental time;
  • self

Abstract

Human experience takes place in the line of mental time (MT) created through ‘self-projection’ of oneself to different time-points in the past or future. Here we manipulated self-projection in MT not only with respect to one’s life events but also with respect to one’s faces from different past and future time-points. Behavioural and event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging activity showed three independent effects characterized by (i) similarity between past recollection and future imagination, (ii) facilitation of judgements related to the future as compared with the past, and (iii) facilitation of judgements related to time-points distant from the present. These effects were found with respect to faces and events, and also suggest that brain mechanisms of MT are independent of whether actual life episodes have to be re-experienced or pre-experienced, recruiting a common cerebral network including the anteromedial temporal, posterior parietal, inferior frontal, temporo-parietal and insular cortices. These behavioural and neural data suggest that self-projection in time is a fundamental aspect of MT, relying on neural structures encoding memory, mental imagery and self.