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Neurosci Lett. 2009 May 1;454(3):176-81. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2009.03.026. Epub 2009 Mar 14.

Online mentalising investigated with functional MRI.

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Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Philipps-University Marburg, Rudolf-Bultmann-Str. 8, D-35039 Marburg, Germany.


For successful interpersonal communication, inferring intentions, goals or desires of others is highly advantageous. Increasingly, humans also interact with computers or robots. In this study, we sought to determine to what degree an interactive task, which involves receiving feedback from social partners that can be used to infer intent, engaged the medial prefrontal cortex, a region previously associated with Theory of Mind processes among others. Participants were scanned using fMRI as they played an adapted version of the Prisoner's Dilemma Game with alleged human and computer partners who were outside the scanner. The medial frontal cortex was activated when both human and computer partner were played, while the direct contrast revealed significantly stronger signal change during the human-human interaction. The results suggest a link between activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and the partner played in a mentalising task. This signal change was also present for to the computers partner. Implying agency or a will to non-human actors might be an innate human resource that could lead to an evolutionary advantage.

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