Brain system for mental orientation in space, time, and person
Orientation is a fundamental mental function that processes the relations between the behaving self to space (places), time (events), and person (people). Behavioral and neuroimaging studies have hinted at interrelations between processing of these three domains. To unravel the neurocognitive basis of orientation, we used high-resolution 7T functional MRI as 16 subjects compared their subjective distance to different places, events, or people. Analysis at the individual-subject level revealed cortical activation related to orientation in space, time, and person in a precisely localized set of structures in the precuneus, inferior parietal, and medial frontal cortex. Comparison of orientation domains revealed a consistent order of cortical activity inside the precuneus and inferior parietal lobes, with space orientation activating posterior regions, followed anteriorly by person and then time. Core regions at the precuneus and inferior parietal lobe were activated for multiple orientation domains, suggesting also common processing for orientation across domains. The medial prefrontal cortex showed a posterior activation for time and anterior for person. Finally, the default-mode network, identified in a separate resting-state scan, was active for all orientation domains and overlapped mostly with person-orientation regions. These findings suggest that mental orientation in space, time, and person is managed by a specific brain system with a highly ordered internal organization, closely related to the default-mode network.