We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate how attended and non-attended hearing of a subject's own name (SON) captures his or her attention. It has been reported that SON presentation activates the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), which is considered to be the key region for self-recognition. However, it remains unclear whether non-attended SON presentation also activates the mPFC. We hypothesized that an attended SON should activate mPFC more than a non-attended SON. To test this hypothesis, we designed an experiment in which we manipulated the task-relevance of SON; in a name-detection task, SON was a target stimulus, whereas in a tone-judgment task, SON was unrelated to the task. In each condition, identical sets of sound stimuli were presented. SON activated mPFC in the name-detection task but not in the tone-judgment task, supporting our hypothesis. In contrast, non-attended SON activated midbrain reticular formation, thalamus, insula, auditory cortex, and precuneus. We interpreted these to be related to low-level, automatic SON detection. Thus, hearing one's own name in a non-attended condition does not primarily engage the mPFC, but recruits a cortico-subcortical auditory attention network; this may account for the oft-observed salience of SON.

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