The neural correlates of theory of mind (ToM) are typically studied using paradigms which require participants to draw explicit, task-related inferences (e.g., in the false belief task). In a natural setup, such as listening to stories, false belief mentalizing occurs incidentally as part of narrative processing. In our experiment, participants listened to auditorily presented stories with false belief passages (implicit false belief processing) and immediately after each story answered comprehension questions (explicit false belief processing), while neural responses were measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). All stories included (among other situations) one false belief condition and one closely matched control condition. For the implicit ToM processing, we modeled the hemodynamic response during the false belief passages in the story and compared it to the hemodynamic response during the closely matched control passages. For implicit mentalizing, we found activation in typical ToM processing regions, that is the angular gyrus (AG), superior medial frontal gyrus (SmFG), precuneus (PCUN), middle temporal gyrus (MTG) as well as in the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) billaterally. For explicit ToM, we only found AG activation. The conjunction analysis highlighted the left AG and MTG as well as the bilateral IFG as overlapping ToM processing regions for both implicit and explicit modes. Implicit ToM processing during listening to false belief passages, recruits the left SmFG and billateral PCUN in addition to the "mentalizing network" known form explicit processing tasks.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)