Brain Mechanisms Underlying Reading the Mind from Eyes, Voice, and Actions

Academic Article


  • Evidence from cognitive and social neuroscience research suggests that Theory of Mind (ToM), the ability to attribute mental states to others, is mediated by a group of brain regions collectively known as the ToM network. Nevertheless, there is significant variability in the functional activation of regions within this network across tasks. The goal of the present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study was to examine the common and differential neural mechanisms of two aspects of ToM processing (emotion/mental-state recognition and intentional attribution) using three distinct, but complementary ToM tasks (Reading the Mind in the Eyes (RMIE), Reading the Mind in the Voice (RMIV), and Intentional Causal Attribution) in healthy adults. Participant accuracy was significantly worse in the ToM compared to the control condition across all tasks. Brain activation analyses replicated previously reported activation in inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and middle temporal gyrus extending to posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) in RMIE. Activation in the fusiform gyrus and bilateral middle temporal gyrus extending to temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) was unique to causality task. A region-of-interest analysis revealed shared activation in left IFG for RMIE and RMIV as well as TPJ recruitment specific to the causality task. The role of right TPJ in the causality task was further supported by a percent signal change analysis. A conjunction analysis revealed overlap in left IFG, left precentral gyrus, and left superior frontal gyrus activity across all tasks. These findings highlight common and differential recruitment of ToM regions according to task demand.
  • Published In

  • Neuroscience  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Thye MD; Murdaugh DL; Kana RK
  • Start Page

  • 172
  • End Page

  • 186
  • Volume

  • 374