Do visual perspective tasks need theory of mind?

Neuroimage. 2006 Apr 15;30(3):1059-68. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2005.10.026. Epub 2005 Dec 6.


Reviews [Frith, U., Frith, C.D., 2003. Development and neurophysiology of mentalising. Philos. Trans. R. Soc., B 358, 685-694.] of several imaging studies report robust involvement of medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) in "theory of mind" (ToM) tasks. Surprisingly, this activation is notably absent when judging another person's visual perspective [Vogeley, K., May, M., Ritzl, A., Falkai, P., Zilles, K., Fink, G.R., 2004. Neural correlates of first-person perspective as one constituent of human self-consciousness. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 16, 817-827.]. The objective of our study was to see whether this activation can be recovered when the difference between what observers see is clearly one of perspectives (in front vs. behind) and not potentially a difference in what observers are looking at. Despite this change, there was still no apparent activation of MPFC. We did find activation in the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) recently emphasized as centrally involved in processing false belief stories [Saxe, R., Kanwisher, N., 2003. People thinking about thinking people: The role of the temporo-parietal junction in "theory of mind". NeuroImage 19, 1835-1842.], which also create a stark contrast of perspectives. By integrating extant neurophysiological evidence on theory of mind processing, we suggest that the dorsal part of the TPJ region is responsible for representing perspective differences and making behavioral predictions, while the more ventral part of TPJ and the MPFC region is responsible for predicting behavioral consequences and the MPFC also emotional consequences of mental states.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Visual Perception / physiology*