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Open Access Research

First-Person Neuroscience: A new methodological approach for linking mental and neuronal states

Georg Northoff1* and Alexander Heinzel2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry, University of Magdeburg, Magdeburg, Germany

2 Department of Nuclear Medicine, University of Duesseldorf, Duesseldorf, Germany

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Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 2006, 1:3  doi:10.1186/1747-5341-1-3

Published: 17 March 2006

Abstract

Though the brain and its neuronal states have been investigated extensively, the neural correlates of mental states remain to be determined. Since mental states are experienced in first-person perspective and neuronal states are observed in third-person perspective, a special method must be developed for linking both states and their respective perspectives. We suggest that such method is provided by First-Person Neuroscience. What is First-Person Neuroscience? We define First-Person Neuroscience as investigation of neuronal states under guidance of and on orientation to mental states. An empirical example of such methodological approach is demonstrated by an fMRI study on emotions. It is shown that third- and first-person analysis of data yield different results. First-person analysis reveals neural activity in cortical midline structures during subjective emotional experience. Based on these and other results neural processing in cortical midline structures is hypothesized to be crucially involved in generating mental states. Such direct linkage between first- and third-person approaches to analysis of neural data allows insight into the "point of view from within the brain", that is what we call the First-Brain Perspective. In conclusion, First-Person Neuroscience and First-Brain Perspective provide valuable methodological tools for revealing the neuronal correlate of mental states.