The neural correlates of theory of mind within interpersonal interactions

Neuroimage. 2004 Aug;22(4):1694-703. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.04.015.


Tasks that engage a theory of mind seem to activate a consistent set of brain areas. In this study, we sought to determine whether two different interactive tasks, both of which involve receiving consequential feedback from social partners that can be used to infer intent, similarly engaged the putative theory of mind neural network. Participants were scanned using fMRI as they played the Ultimatum Game (UG) and the Prisoner's Dilemma Game (PDG) with both alleged human and computer partners who were outside the scanner. We observed a remarkable degree of overlap in brain areas that activated to partner decisions in the two games, including commonly observed theory of mind areas, as well as several brain areas that have not been reported previously and may relate to immersion of participants in real social interactions that have personally meaningful consequences. Although computer partners elicited activation in some of the same areas activated by human partners, most of these activations were stronger for human partners.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Dominance, Cerebral
  • Feedback / physiology
  • Female
  • Games, Experimental
  • Humans
  • Image Enhancement
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Individuality
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Oxygen / blood*
  • Personal Construct Theory*
  • Set, Psychology
  • Social Behavior


  • Oxygen