Cerebral Cortex Communications, 2021
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Abstract Death is an important reminder that our lives are finite. Although some studies have shown that thinking about one’s own death increases temporal discounting (i.e., the devaluing of future rewards), the underlying neural mechanisms are still unknown. In a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment, we compared the neural and behavioral processes of temporal discounting across four conditions involving distinct types of future thinking (death related, negative, neutral, and positive). Replicating prior research, the behavioral evidence showed that temporal discounting increased when thinking about one’s own future death. Multivoxel pattern analysis (MVPA) showed that death-related future thinking was decoded in default mode regions, including the inferior parietal lobule, precuneus and medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC). When future thinking was death related (vs. negative), increased temporal discounting was associated with a higher decoding accuracy in the precuneus and MPFC. The present findings suggest that death-related neural representations are distributed across default mode regions, and neural populations in the cortical midline structures play a crucial role in the integration of one's own death into economic decision-making.