Are there theory of mind regions in the brain? A review of the neuroimaging literature

Hum Brain Mapp. 2009 Aug;30(8):2313-35. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20671.


There have been many functional imaging studies of the brain basis of theory of mind (ToM) skills, but the findings are heterogeneous and implicate anatomical regions as far apart as orbitofrontal cortex and the inferior parietal lobe. The functional imaging studies are reviewed to determine whether the diverse findings are due to methodological factors. The studies are considered according to the paradigm employed (e.g., stories vs. cartoons and explicit vs. implicit ToM instructions), the mental state(s) investigated, and the language demands of the tasks. Methodological variability does not seem to account for the variation in findings, although this conclusion may partly reflect the relatively small number of studies. Alternatively, several distinct brain regions may be activated during ToM reasoning, forming an integrated functional "network." The imaging findings suggest that there are several "core" regions in the network-including parts of the prefrontal cortex and superior temporal sulcus-while several more "peripheral" regions may contribute to ToM reasoning in a manner contingent on relatively minor aspects of the ToM task.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Deception
  • Empathy
  • Humans
  • Intention
  • Language
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Narration
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Photic Stimulation