Acquired 'theory of mind' impairments following stroke

Cognition. 1999 Apr 1;70(3):211-40. doi: 10.1016/s0010-0277(99)00005-0.


The ability to attribute thoughts and feelings to self and others ('theory of mind') has been hypothesised to have an innate neural basis and a dedicated cognitive mechanism. Evidence in favour of this proposal has come from autism; a brain-based developmental disorder which appears to be characterised by impaired theory of mind, despite sometimes good general reasoning skills/IQ. To date no case of specific acquired theory of mind impairment has been reported. The present study examined theory of mind in adults who had suffered right hemisphere stroke, a group known to show pragmatic and social difficulties. In one study using story materials and two using cartoons, patients' understanding of materials requiring attribution of mental states (e.g. ignorance, false belief) was significantly worse than their understanding of non-mental control materials. Data from healthy elderly subjects, and a small group of left hemisphere patients (who received the tasks in modified form), suggest that this impairment on mental state tasks is not a function of task difficulty. The findings support the notion of a dedicated cognitive system for theory of mind, and suggest a role for the healthy right hemisphere in the attribution of mental states.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Aphasia / etiology
  • Aphasia / psychology
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / complications*
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / psychology*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Emotions
  • Facial Expression
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychological Tests
  • Self Concept
  • Social Perception*