Task-specific activity and connectivity within the mentalizing network during emotion and intention mentalizing

Neuroimage. 2011 Apr 15;55(4):1899-911. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.12.036. Epub 2010 Dec 21.


Mentalizing, i.e. the process of inferring another person's mental state, is thought to be primarily subserved by three brain regions, the VMPFC (ventromedial prefrontal cortex), precuneus and TPJ (temporo-parietal junction). However, it is still unclear what the exact roles of these regions in mentalizing are. Here, we compare activity within, and functional connectivity between, the VMPFC, precuneus and TPJ during two different mentalizing tasks. Specifically, we examine whether inferring another person's emotion ("emotion mentalizing") and inferring another person's intention ("intention mentalizing") activate similar or distinct subregions within the VMPFC, precuneus and TPJ, and whether these different kinds of mentalizing are associated with different patterns of functional connectivity between these regions. Our results indicate that emotion mentalizing and intention mentalizing activate partly distinct subregions of the right and left TPJ that can be spatially separated across participants. These subregions also showed different patterns of functional connectivity with the VMPFC: a more anterior region of the right and left TPJ, which was more strongly activated during emotion mentalizing, showed stronger functional connectivity with the VMPFC, particularly during emotion mentalizing, than a more posterior region that was more strongly activated during intention mentalizing. Critically, this double dissociation became evident only when the fine-scale distribution of activity within activated regions was analysed, and despite the fact that there was also a significant overlap of activity during the two tasks. Our findings provide first evidence that different neural modules might have evolved within the TPJ that show distinct patterns of functional connectivity and might subserve slightly different subfunctions of mentalizing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Young Adult