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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. Mar 29, 2003; 358(1431): 459–473.
PMCID: PMC1693139

Development and neurophysiology of mentalizing.


The mentalizing (theory of mind) system of the brain is probably in operation from ca. 18 months of age, allowing implicit attribution of intentions and other mental states. Between the ages of 4 and 6 years explicit mentalizing becomes possible, and from this age children are able to explain the misleading reasons that have given rise to a false belief. Neuroimaging studies of mentalizing have so far only been carried out in adults. They reveal a system with three components consistently activated during both implicit and explicit mentalizing tasks: medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), temporal poles and posterior superior temporal sulcus (STS). The functions of these components can be elucidated, to some extent, from their role in other tasks used in neuroimaging studies. Thus, the MPFC region is probably the basis of the decoupling mechanism that distinguishes mental state representations from physical state representations; the STS region is probably the basis of the detection of agency, and the temporal poles might be involved in access to social knowledge in the form of scripts. The activation of these components in concert appears to be critical to mentalizing.

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