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People thinking about thinking people: The role of the temporo-parietal junction in "theory of mind"

by R. Saxe, N. Kanwisher
NeuroImage ()

Abstract

Humans powerfully and flexibly interpret the behaviour of other people based on an understanding of their minds: that is, we use a "theory of mind." In this study we distinguish theory of mind, which represents another person's mental states, from a representation of the simple presence of another person per se. The studies reported here establish for the first time that a region in the human temporo-parietal junction (here called the TPJ-M) is involved specifically in reasoning about the contents of another person's mind. First, the TPJ-M was doubly dissociated from the nearby extrastriate body area (EBA; Downing et al., 2001). Second, the TPJ-M does not respond to false representations in non-social control stories. Third, the BOLD response in the TPJ-M bilaterally was higher when subjects read stories about a character's mental states, compared with stories that described people in physical detail, which did not differ from stories about nonhuman objects. Thus, the role of the TPJ-M in understanding other people appears to be specific to reasoning about the content of mental states. ?? 2003 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.

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