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      Neural correlates of theory-of-mind are associated with variation in children’s everyday social cognition

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          Theory of mind (ToM), the capacity to reason about others’ mental states, is central to healthy social development. Neural mechanisms supporting ToM may contribute to individual differences in children’s social cognitive behavior. Employing a false belief functional magnetic resonance imaging paradigm, we identified patterns of neural activity and connectivity elicited by ToM reasoning in school-age children ( N = 32, ages 9–13). Next, we tested relations between these neural ToM correlates and children’s everyday social cognition. Several key nodes of the neural ToM network showed greater activity when reasoning about false beliefs (ToM condition) vs non-mentalistic false content (control condition), including the bilateral temporoparietal junction (RTPJ and LTPJ), precuneus (PC) and right superior temporal sulcus. In addition, children demonstrated task-modulated changes in connectivity among these regions to support ToM relative to the control condition. ToM-related activity in the PC was negatively associated with variation in multiple aspects of children’s social cognitive behavior. Together, these findings elucidate how nodes of the ToM network act and interact to support false belief reasoning in school-age children and suggest that neural ToM mechanisms are linked to variation in everyday social cognition.

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          Most cited references 32

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          Assessment of Individual Differences in Empathy

           Mark Davis (2018)
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            Neuronal correlates of theory of mind and empathy: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study in a nonverbal task.

            Theory of Mind (ToM), the ability to attribute mental states to others, and empathy, the ability to infer emotional experiences, are important processes in social cognition. Brain imaging studies in healthy subjects have described a brain system involving medial prefrontal cortex, superior temporal sulcus and temporal pole in ToM processing. Studies investigating networks associated with empathic responding also suggest involvement of temporal and frontal lobe regions. In this fMRI study, we used a cartoon task derived from Sarfati et al. (1997) [Sarfati, Y., Hardy-Bayle, M.C., Besche, C., Widlocher, D. 1997. Attribution of intentions to others in people with schizophrenia: a non-verbal exploration with comic strips. Schizophrenia Research 25, 199-209.]with both ToM and empathy stimuli in order to allow comparison of brain activations in these two processes. Results of 13 right-handed, healthy, male volunteers were included. Functional images were acquired using a 1.5 T Phillips Gyroscan. Our results confirmed that ToM and empathy stimuli are associated with overlapping but distinct neuronal networks. Common areas of activation included the medial prefrontal cortex, temporoparietal junction and temporal poles. Compared to the empathy condition, ToM stimuli revealed increased activations in lateral orbitofrontal cortex, middle frontal gyrus, cuneus and superior temporal gyrus. Empathy, on the other hand, was associated with enhanced activations of paracingulate, anterior and posterior cingulate and amygdala. We therefore suggest that ToM and empathy both rely on networks associated with making inferences about mental states of others. However, empathic responding requires the additional recruitment of networks involved in emotional processing. These results have implications for our understanding of disorders characterized by impairments of social cognition, such as autism and psychopathy.
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              People thinking about thinking peopleThe role of the temporo-parietal junction in “theory of mind”

               R. Saxe,  N Kanwisher (2003)

                Author and article information

                Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci
                Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci
                Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
                Oxford University Press
                June 2019
                11 June 2019
                11 June 2019
                : 14
                : 6
                : 579-589
                [1 ]Department of Psychology, Harvard University, 33 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
                [2 ]Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, 1 Autumn Street, Boston, MA 02215, USA
                [3 ]Department of Psychology, University of Rochester, Meliora Hall, Rochester, NY 14627, USA
                [4 ]Harvard Graduate School of Education, 13 Appian Way, Cambridge, MA 02138 USA
                [5 ]Department of Psychiatry, Rush University Medical Center, 1645 W. Jackson Boulevard, Suite 600, Chicago, IL 60612, USA
                Author notes
                Correspondence should be addressed to Cora E. Mukerji, M.A. Harvard University 33 Kirkland Street, William James Hall, Room 1206 Cambridge, MA 02138, USA. E-mail: coramukerji@ 123456fas.harvard.edu
                © The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact journals.permissions@oup.com

                Page count
                Pages: 11
                Funded by: NARSAD 10.13039/100009670
                Funded by: Brain and Behavior Research Foundation 10.13039/100000874
                Funded by: RAND 10.13039/100004459
                Funded by: Julius B. Richmond Fellowship
                Funded by: Sackler Scholar Programme in Psychobiology
                Funded by: National Institutes of Health 10.13039/100000002
                Award ID: 7R01MH100028
                Original Article


                empathy, fmri, effective connectivity, false belief, perspective-taking


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