Theory of Mind network encodes how you know what you know in blind and sighted adults


‘Theory of Mind’ (ToM) is the ability to reason about mental experiences such as beliefs and desires. ToM depends on a specific network of brain regions, including the right temporo-parietal junction (RTPJ). We investigated whether these brain regions distinguish between others' mental states experienced through seeing vs hearing ('Sarah saw that', vs 'Sarah heard that'), using multivoxel pattern analyses (MVPA). We find that the spatial pattern in the RTPJ distinguishes stories about mental states experienced through hearing vs. seeing (i.e. source) but not other salient distinctions, such as the positive vs. negative affective valence of the mental state. To investigate effects of first-person experience on these representations, we repeated the experiment in congenitally blind participants. Again, MVPA in the RTPJ distinguished source but not valence. We conclude that 1) the source information of someone else's mental state is coded in ToM brain regions and is a feature of ToM, and 2) these ToM representations of perceptual source are not based on first-person perceptual experiences.

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