Recent advances in non-invasive human neuroimaging have provided researchers in the emerging field of social brain science with insights into the workings of consciousness
and social cognition. Of special interest is the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), a region of the brain associated with memory, fear, and, perhaps, prejudice.
Fears create memories, and those memories appear to be stored in the amygdala. This same region also seems to create memories that counter those fears, though these memories are then stored in the MPFC. Neuroimages show that nerves from the MPFC project into the amygdala, providing the mechanism for suppressing the fear response. As one might expect, rodents with MPFC damage have a decreased ability to deal with certain fears.
MPFC activity also seems to correlate with self-referential judgments and memory. The dorsal MPFC in particular shows heightened activity during introspective mental activity. Interestingly, there is a reduction in ventral MPFC activity when individuals are involved in tasks that demand attention. This indicates that cognitive activity can decrease certain emotional processing. Other differences between these two areas of the MPFC have been noted. The ventral region becomes more engaged when an individual is shown photographs of strangers whose political beliefs—so the viewer is told—are similar to those of the person viewing the photograph, but the dorsal region becomes more active when the photographs are of individuals with whom the viewer does not share the same political perspective.
As long ago as the 19th century, scientists knew that damage to the MPFC interfered with social skills while leaving other mental skills untouched. With our newfound ability to actually observe mental activity in both healthy and impaired individuals without recourse to surgery, we have entered into an area that is sure to provide us with information about ourselves that will prove to be of enormous interest and great usefulness.
1. Which of the following can be inferred from the passage about the ventral MPFC?
(A) It is in direct contact with the amygdala.
(B) It is involved in emotional processing.
(C) It was first identified in the 19th century.
(D) It is not involved in the storing of memories relating to fears.
(E) It is smaller than the dorsal MPFC.
2. The primary purpose of the passage is to _______.
(A) highlight some of the work being done in a new field
(B) discuss technological breakthroughs
(C) illustrate the advantages of non-invasive brain research
(D) show similarities between apparently differing research methods
(E) demonstrate the extent to which our knowledge of the brain has increased in recent years
3. According to the passage, it is likely that the memories that allay fears are _______.
(A) formed in the dorsal and ventral MPFC
(B) related to memories that form prejudices
(C) created and stored in different parts of the brain
(D) able to be manipulated in rats through neuroimaging procedures
(E) affected by tasks that demand attention
4. Which of the following does the author NOT mention as being an advantage of neuroimaging?
(A) Researchers can better understand how people think about themselves.
(B) The connections between some parts of the brain are made apparent.
(C) Greater insight as to how people perceive each other is made possible.
(D) Scientists do not have to rely on animals that have sustained injuries.
(E) Healthy individuals can be studied through simple surgical procedures.