Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we investigated neural activity associated with self-reflection in depressed [current major depressive episode (MDE)] and healthy control participants, focusing on medial cortex areas previously shown to be associated with self-reflection. Both the MDE and healthy control groups showed greater activity in anterior medial cortex (medial frontal gyrus, anterior cingulate gyrus) when cued to think about hopes and aspirations compared with duties and obligations, and greater activity in posterior medial cortex (precuneus, posterior cingulate) when cued to think about duties and obligations (Experiment 1). However, the MDE group showed less activity than controls in the same area of medial frontal cortex when self-referential cues were more ambiguous with respect to valence (Experiment 2), and less deactivation in a nonself-referential condition in both experiments. Furthermore, individual differences in rumination were positively correlated with activity in both anterior and posterior medial cortex during non-self-referential conditions. These results provide converging evidence for a dissociation of anterior and posterior medial cortex depending on the focus of self-relevant thought. They also provide neural evidence consistent with behavioral findings that depression is associated with disruption of positively valenced thoughts in response to ambiguous cues, and difficulty disengaging from self-reflection when it is appropriate to do so
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