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Neuroimage. 2010 Feb 15;49(4):3452-62. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.11.012. Epub 2009 Nov 18.

Social cognition and the anterior temporal lobes.

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Department of Psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122, USA.


Two distinct literatures have emerged on the functionality of the anterior temporal lobes (ATL): in one field, the ATLs are conceived of as a repository for semantic or conceptual knowledge. In another field, the ATLs are thought to play some undetermined role in social-emotional functions such as Theory of Mind. Here we attempted to reconcile these distinct functions by assessing whether social semantic processing can explain ATL activation in other social cognitive tasks. Social semantic functions refer to knowledge about social concepts and rules. In a first experiment we tested the idea that social semantic representations can account for activations in the ATL to social attribution stimuli such as Heider and Simmel animations. Left ATL activations to Heider and Simmel stimuli overlapped with activations to social words. In a second experiment we assessed the putative roles of the ATLs in the processing of narratives and theory of mind content and found evidence for a role of the ATLs in the processing of theory of mind but not narrative per se. These findings indicate that the ATLs are part of a neuronal network supporting social cognition and that they are engaged when tasks demand access to social conceptual knowledge.

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