Impaired "affective theory of mind" is associated with right ventromedial prefrontal damage

Cogn Behav Neurol. 2005 Mar;18(1):55-67. doi: 10.1097/01.wnn.0000152228.90129.99.


Objective: To examine the hypothesis that patients with ventromedial (VM) frontal lesions are impaired in the affective rather than cognitive facets of theory of mind (ToM).

Background: Prefrontal brain damage may result in impaired social behavior, especially when the damage involves the orbitofrontal/VM prefrontal cortex (PFC). It has been previously suggested that deficits in ToM may account for such aberrant behavior. However, inconsistent results have been reported, and different regions within the frontal cortex have been associated with ToM impairment.

Method: The performance of 26 patients with localized lesions in the PFC was compared with responses of 13 patients with posterior lesions and 13 normal control subjects. Three ToM tasks differing in the level of emotional processing involved were used: second-order false belief task, understanding ironic utterances, and identifying social faux pas.

Results and conclusions: The results indicated that patients with VM (but not dorsolateral) prefrontal lesions were significantly impaired in irony and faux pas but not in second-order false belief as compared with patients with posterior lesions and normal control subjects. Lesions in the right VM area were associated with the most severe ToM deficit. These results are discussed in terms of the cognitive and affective facets of "mind-reading" processes mediated by the VM cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Brain Injuries / complications*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception
  • Prefrontal Cortex / injuries*
  • Psychophysiology*
  • Social Behavior
  • Truth Disclosure