Mind reading: neural mechanisms of theory of mind and self-perspective

Neuroimage. 2001 Jul;14(1 Pt 1):170-81. doi: 10.1006/nimg.2001.0789.


Human self-consciousness as the metarepresentation of ones own mental states and the so-called theory of mind (TOM) capacity, which requires the ability to model the mental states of others, are closely related higher cognitive functions. We address here the issue of whether taking the self-perspective (SELF) or modeling the mind of someone else (TOM) employ the same or differential neural mechanisms. A TOM paradigm was used and extended to include stimulus material that involved TOM and SELF capacities in a two-way factorial design. A behavioral study in 42 healthy volunteers showed that TOM and SELF induced differential states of mind: subjects assigned correctly first or third person pronouns when providing responses to the stimuli. Following the behavioral study, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in eight healthy, right-handed males to study the common and differential neural mechanisms underlying TOM and SELF. The main factor TOM led to increased neural activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and left temporopolar cortex. The main factor SELF led to increased neural activity in the right temporoparietal junction and in the anterior cingulate cortex. A significant interaction of both factors TOM and SELF was observed in the right prefrontal cortex. These divergent neural activations in response to TOM and SELF suggest that these important differential mental capacities of human self-consciousness are implemented at least in part in distinct brain regions. Press

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Awareness / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Perception*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*