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Hum Brain Mapp. 2015 Jan;36(1):29-39. doi: 10.1002/hbm.22610. Epub 2014 Aug 14.

Shared and nonshared neural networks of cognitive and affective theory-of-mind: a neuroimaging study using cartoon picture stories.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, BG-Kliniken Bergmannsheil, Ruhr-University Bochum, Bochum, Germany.


Theory of mind (ToM) refers to the ability to represent one's own and others' cognitive and affective mental states. Recent imaging studies have aimed to disentangle the neural networks involved in cognitive as opposed to affective ToM, based on clinical observations that the two can functionally dissociate. Due to large differences in stimulus material and task complexity findings are, however, inconclusive. Here, we investigated the neural correlates of cognitive and affective ToM in psychologically healthy male participants (n = 39) using functional brain imaging, whereby the same set of stimuli was presented for all conditions (affective, cognitive and control), but associated with different questions prompting either a cognitive or affective ToM inference. Direct contrasts of cognitive versus affective ToM showed that cognitive ToM recruited the precuneus and cuneus, as well as regions in the temporal lobes bilaterally. Affective ToM, in contrast, involved a neural network comprising prefrontal cortical structures, as well as smaller regions in the posterior cingulate cortex and the basal ganglia. Notably, these results were complemented by a multivariate pattern analysis (leave one study subject out), yielding a classifier with an accuracy rate of more than 85% in distinguishing between the two ToM-conditions. The regions contributing most to successful classification corresponded to those found in the univariate analyses. The study contributes to the differentiation of neural patterns involved in the representation of cognitive and affective mental states of others.

© 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


cognitive and affective ToM; functional brain imaging; multivariate analysis; theory of mind

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