fMRI evidence for sensitivity to coherence and context in the theory of mind network


Much neuroimaging work converges on a set of brain regions engaged in representing the mental states of other agents. These regions, the theory of mind (ToM) network, include the bilateral temporoparietal junction, dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, and precuneus. Studies employing diverse methodologies consistently reveal greater activation in the ToM network to stimuli that prompt mental state attribution relative to various control conditions. However, attempts to elicit differential responses within the network by manipulating mental state content have typically failed. We report findings that the network is sensitive to two features of mental state stories. First, the hemodynamic response is reduced following a coherence break in the stories’ plot relative to a coherent condition, in both ToM and left-hemisphere language areas. Second, the amount of context provided is positively related to the strength of activation in the network. These results suggest that ToM representation depends on a sustained input of coherent information.

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