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People’s abilities to integrate temporally distant identities are known to be facilitated by the fulfillment of basic psychological needs. However, the neural systems that support the integrative functions of need fulfillment are not well understood. Neuroimaging studies indicate that the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) differentiates remembered past, perceived present, and imagined future identities, possibly on the basis of the self-relevance attributed to specific identity representations. Using optical neuroimaging, we examined the relationship between need fulfillment and activity within the MPFC when young adults (N = 110) made trait judgments about their past, present, and future identities. Participants reporting higher need fulfillment evidenced similarly high levels of activity in the right-MPFC across the conditions; in contrast, those reporting lower need fulfillment evidenced markedly reduced activity when judging past and future identities. Results thus suggest that, among people who experience higher need fulfillment, the MPFC processes temporally distant identities in a similarly self-relevant manner. These findings provide a new type of evidence of the relationship between need fulfillment and identity integration and provide future studies with a point of entry for further examining the neural basis of identity integration.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

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Journal Article

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