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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jun 9;106(23):9163-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0807721106. Epub 2009 May 22.

Neural correlates of depth of strategic reasoning in medial prefrontal cortex.

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Cognitive Neuroscience Centre, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Bron, Lyon, France.


We used functional MRI (fMRI) to investigate human mental processes in a competitive interactive setting--the "beauty contest" game. This game is well-suited for investigating whether and how a player's mental processing incorporates the thinking process of others in strategic reasoning. We apply a cognitive hierarchy model to classify subject's choices in the experimental game according to the degree of strategic reasoning so that we can identify the neural substrates of different levels of strategizing. According to this model, high-level reasoners expect the others to behave strategically, whereas low-level reasoners choose based on the expectation that others will choose randomly. The data show that high-level reasoning and a measure of strategic IQ (related to winning in the game) correlate with the neural activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, demonstrating its crucial role in successful mentalizing. This supports a cognitive hierarchy model of human brain and behavior.

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