Preliminary evidence of the role of medial prefrontal cortex in self-enhancement: A transcranial magnetic stimulation study

Birgitta Taylor-Lillquist, Vivek Kanpa, Maya Crawford, Mehdi El Filali, Julia Oakes, Alex Jonasz, Amanda Disney, Julian Paul Keenan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Humans employ a number of strategies to improve their position in their given social hierarchy. Overclaiming involves presenting oneself as having more knowledge than one actually possesses, and it is typically invoked to increase one’s social standing. If increased expectations to possess knowledge is a perceived social pressure, such expectations should increase bouts of overclaiming. As the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) is sensitive to social pressure and disruption of the MPFC leads to decreases in overclaiming, we predicted that transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) applied to the MPFC would reduce overclaiming and the effects would be enhanced in the presence of social pressure. Twelve participants were given a test in which half of the words were real and half were fake, and they were asked how well they knew each word. They were not told that any of the words were fake. Half of the participants were exposed to social pressure while the other half were not. Following TMS delivered to the MPFC, overclaiming rates decreased, specifically under conditions of high social pressure. Medial PFC TMS did not influence real word responses and real words did not interact with the MPFC and social pressure. These preliminary findings support the significant role the MPFC plays in social cognition and the importance of the MPFC in mediating socially meaningful situations. We suggest the role of the MPFC as being highly influenced by the premium placed on social manipulation in human evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Article number535
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2020


  • Deception
  • Medial prefrontal cortex
  • Overclaiming
  • Self-deception
  • Self-enhancement
  • Social monitoring
  • Social pressure
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation


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