The anatomical and evolutionary relationship between self-awareness and theory of mind

Kevin Guise, Karen Kelly, Jennifer Romanowski, Kai Vogeley, Steven M. Platek, Elizabeth Murray, Julian Paul Keenan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Although theories that examine direct links between behavior and brain remain incomplete, it is known that brain expansion significantly correlates with caloric and oxygen demands. Therefore, one of the principles governing evolutionary cognitive neuroscience is that cognitive abilities that require significant brain function (and/or structural support) must be accompanied by significant fitness benefit to offset the increased metabolic demands. One such capacity is self-awareness (SA), which (1) is found only in the greater apes and (2) remains unclear in terms of both cortical underpinning and possible fitness benefit. In the current experiment, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) was applied to the prefrontal cortex during a spatial perspective-taking task involving self and other viewpoints. It was found that delivery of TMS to the right prefrontal region disrupted self-, but not other-, perspective. These data suggest that self-awareness may have evolved in concert with other right hemisphere cognitive abilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-142
Number of pages11
JournalHuman Nature
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2007


  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Self-awareness
  • Theory of mind
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation


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