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Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2018 Nov;34:139-147. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2018.08.001. Epub 2018 Sep 29.

Do you know what I'm thinking? Temporal and spatial brain activity during a theory-of-mind task in children with autism.

Author information

1
Department of Diagnostic Imaging, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON, Canada; Neurosciences and Mental Health Program, SickKids Research Institute, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON, Canada; Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada. Electronic address: veronica.yuk@sickkids.ca.
2
Department of Diagnostic Imaging, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON, Canada; Neurosciences and Mental Health Program, SickKids Research Institute, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON, Canada.
3
Neurosciences and Mental Health Program, SickKids Research Institute, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON, Canada; Department of Neurology, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON, Canada.
4
Department of Neurology, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON, Canada; Bloorview Research Institute, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, Toronto, ON, Canada.
5
Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.
6
Department of Diagnostic Imaging, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON, Canada; Neurosciences and Mental Health Program, SickKids Research Institute, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON, Canada; Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.

Abstract

The social impairments observed in children with autism spectrum disorder are thought to arise in part from deficits in theory of mind, the ability to understand other people's thoughts and feelings. To determine the temporal-spatial dynamics of brain activity underlying these atypical theory-of-mind processes, we used magnetoencephalography to characterize the sequence of functional brain patterns (i.e. when and where) related to theory-of-mind reasoning in 19 high-functioning children with autism compared to 22 age- and sex-matched typically-developing children aged 8-12 during a false-belief (theory-of-mind) task. While task performance did not differ between the two groups, children with autism showed reduced activation in the left temporoparietal junction between 300-375 and 425-500 ms, as well as increased activation in the right inferior frontal gyrus from 325 to 375 ms compared to controls. The overlap in decreased temporoparietal junction activity and increased right inferior frontal gyrus activation from 325 to 375 ms suggests that in children with autism, the right inferior frontal gyrus may compensate for deficits in the temporoparietal junction, a neural theory-of-mind network hub. As the right inferior frontal gyrus is involved in inhibitory control, this finding suggests that children with autism rely on executive functions to bolster their false-belief understanding.

KEYWORDS:

Autism; Children; False belief; Magnetoencephalography; Theory of mind

PMID:
30415185
DOI:
10.1016/j.dcn.2018.08.001
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