Neural Correlates of Direct and Reflected Self-Appraisals in Adolescents and Adults: When Social Perspective-Taking Informs Self-Perception


  • This research was supported by a National Research Service Award from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH075299) to J. H. Pfeifer and a UCLA Academic Senate Grant to M. Lieberman. It was also funded in part by the Foundation for Psychocultural Research through grants to the FPR-UCLA Center for Culture, Brain, and Development and to A. J. Fuligni. For generous support, the authors also wish to thank the Brain Mapping Medical Research Organization, Brain Mapping Support Foundation, Pierson-Lovelace Foundation, the Ahmanson Foundation, William M. and Linda R. Dietel Philanthropic Fund at the Northern Piedmont Community Foundation, Tamkin Foundation, Jennifer Jones-Simon Foundation, Capital Group Companies Charitable Foundation, Robson Family, and Northstar Fund. The project described was supported by Grants RR12169, RR13642, and RR00865 from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH); its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of NCR or NIH.

concerning this article should be addressed to Jennifer H. Pfeifer, Department of Psychology, 1227 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-1227. Electronic mail may be sent to


Classic theories of self-development suggest people define themselves in part through internalized perceptions of other people’s beliefs about them, known as reflected self-appraisals. This study uses functional magnetic resonance imaging to compare the neural correlates of direct and reflected self-appraisals in adolescence (N = 12, ages 11–14 years) and adulthood (N = 12, ages 23–30 years). During direct self-reflection, adolescents demonstrated greater activity than adults in networks relevant to self-perception (medial prefrontal and parietal cortices) and social-cognition (dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, temporal–parietal junction, and posterior superior temporal sulcus), suggesting adolescent self-construals may rely more heavily on others’ perspectives about the self. Activity in the medial fronto-parietal network was also enhanced when adolescents took the perspective of someone more relevant to a given domain.