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PLoS One. 2009;4(3):e4869. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004869. Epub 2009 Mar 17.

Distinct regions of right temporo-parietal junction are selective for theory of mind and exogenous attention.

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  • 1School of Computer Science, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America.


In functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies, a cortical region in the right temporo-parietal junction (RTPJ) is recruited when participants read stories about people's thoughts ('Theory of Mind'). Both fMRI and lesion studies suggest that a region near the RTPJ is associated with attentional reorienting in response to an unexpected stimulus. Do Theory of Mind and attentional reorienting recruit a single population of neurons, or are there two neighboring but distinct neural populations in the RTPJ? One recent study compared these activations, and found evidence consistent with a single common region. However, the apparent overlap may have been due to the low resolution of the previous technique. We tested this hypothesis using a high-resolution protocol, within-subjects analyses, and more powerful statistical methods. Strict conjunction analyses revealed that the area of overlap was small and on the periphery of each activation. In addition, a bootstrap analysis identified a reliable 6-10 mm spatial displacement between the peak activations of the two tasks; the same magnitude and direction of displacement was observed in within-subjects comparisons. In all, these results suggest that there are neighboring but distinct regions within the RTPJ implicated in Theory of Mind and orienting attention.

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