Error analyses reveal contrasting deficits in "theory of mind": neuropsychological evidence from a 3-option false belief task

Neuropsychologia. 2007 Jun 18;45(11):2561-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2007.03.013. Epub 2007 Mar 23.


Perspective taking is a crucial ability that guides our social interactions. In this study, we show how the specific patterns of errors of brain-damaged patients in perspective taking tasks can help us further understand the factors contributing to perspective taking abilities. Previous work [e.g., Samson, D., Apperly, I. A., Chiavarino, C., & Humphreys, G. W. (2004). Left temporoparietal junction is necessary for representing someone else's belief. Nature Neuroscience, 7, 499-500; Samson, D., Apperly, I. A., Kathirgamanathan, U., & Humphreys, G. W. (2005). Seeing it my way: A case of a selective deficit in inhibiting self-perspective. Brain, 128, 1102-1111] distinguished two components of perspective taking: the ability to inhibit our own perspective and the ability to infer someone else's perspective. We assessed these components using a new nonverbal false belief task which provided different response options to detect three types of response strategies that participants might be using: a complete and spared belief reasoning strategy, a reality-based response selection strategy in which participants respond from their own perspective, and a simplified mentalising strategy in which participants avoid responding from their own perspective but rely on inaccurate cues to infer the other person's belief. One patient, with a self-perspective inhibition deficit, almost always used the reality-based response strategy; in contrast, the other patient, with a deficit in taking other perspectives, tended to use the simplified mentalising strategy without necessarily transposing her own perspective. We discuss the extent to which the pattern of performance of both patients could relate to their executive function deficit and how it can inform us on the cognitive and neural components involved in belief reasoning.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain Damage, Chronic / etiology
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / physiopathology
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / psychology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology*
  • Concept Formation*
  • Consciousness
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Reality Testing
  • Reference Values
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Perception*
  • Stroke / complications
  • Stroke / psychology