An fMRI study of joint attention experience

Neuroimage. 2005 Mar;25(1):133-40. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.10.047. Epub 2005 Jan 21.


Although much is now known about eye movement detection, little is known about the higher cognitive processes involved in joint attention. We developed video stimuli which when watched, engender an experience of joint attention in the observer. This allowed us to compare an experience of joint attention to nonjoint attention within an fMRI scanning environment. Joint attention was associated with activity in the ventromedial frontal cortex, the left superior frontal gyrus (BA10), cingulate cortex, and caudate nuclei. The ventromedial frontal cortex has been consistently shown to be activated during mental state attribution tasks. BA10 may serve a cognitive integration function, which in this case seems to utilize a perception-action matching process. The activation we identified in BA10 overlaps with a location of increased grey matter density that we recently found to be associated with autistic spectrum disorder. This study therefore constitutes evidence that the neural substrate of joint attention also serves a mentalizing function. The developmental failure of this substrate in the left anterior frontal lobe may be important in the etiology of autistic spectrum disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Caudate Nucleus / physiopathology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Eye Movements / physiology*
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiopathology*
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional*
  • Imitative Behavior / physiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Psychophysics
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Video Recording