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PLoS One. 2008 Apr 23;3(4):e2023. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002023.

Cooperation and deception recruit different subsets of the theory-of-mind network.

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


The term "theory of mind" (ToM) describes an evolved psychological mechanism that is necessary to represent intentions and expectations in social interaction. It is thus involved in determining the proclivity of others to cooperate or defect. While in cooperative settings between two parties the intentions and expectations of the protagonists match, they diverge in deceptive scenarios, in which one protagonist is intentionally manipulated to hold a false belief about the intention of the other. In a functional magnetic resonance imaging paradigm using cartoons showing social interactions (including the outcome of the interaction) between two or three story characters, respectively, we sought to determine those brain areas of the ToM network involved in reasoning about cooperative versus deceptive interactions. Healthy volunteers were asked to reflect upon the protagonists' intentions and expectations in cartoons depicting cooperation, deception or a combination of both, where two characters cooperated to deceive a third. Reasoning about the mental states of the story characters yielded substantial differences in activation patterns: both deception and cooperation activated bilateral temporoparietal junction, parietal and cingulate regions, while deception alone additionally recruited orbitofrontal and medial prefrontal regions. These results indicate an important role for prefrontal cortex in processing a mismatch between a character's intention and another's expectations as required in complex social interactions.

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