Rethinking the role of the rTPJ in attention and social cognition in light of the opposing domains hypothesis: findings from an ALE-based meta-analysis and resting-state functional connectivity

Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Jul 10;7:323. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00323. eCollection 2013.


The right temporo-parietal junction (rTPJ) has been associated with two apparently disparate functional roles: in attention and in social cognition. According to one account, the rTPJ initiates a "circuit-breaking" signal that interrupts ongoing attentional processes, effectively reorienting attention. It is argued this primary function of the rTPJ has been extended beyond attention, through a process of evolutionarily cooption, to play a role in social cognition. We propose an alternative account, according to which the capacity for social cognition depends on a network which is both distinct from and in tension with brain areas involved in focused attention and target detection: the default mode network (DMN). Theory characterizing the rTPJ based on the area's purported role in reorienting may be falsely guided by the co-occurrence of two distinct effects in contiguous regions: activation of the supramarginal gyrus (SMG), associated with its functional role in target detection; and the transient release, during spatial reorienting, of suppression of the angular gyrus (AG) associated with focused attention. Findings based on meta-analysis and resting functional connectivity are presented which support this alternative account. We find distinct regions, possessing anti-correlated patterns of resting connectivity, associated with social reasoning (AG) and target detection (SMG) at the rTPJ. The locus for reorienting was spatially intermediate between the AG and SMG and showed a pattern of connectivity with similarities to social reasoning and target detection seeds. These findings highlight a general methodological concern for brain imaging. Given evidence that certain tasks not only activate some areas but also suppress activity in other areas, it is suggested that researchers need to distinguish two distinct putative mechanisms, either of which may produce an increase in activity in a brain area: functional engagement in the task vs. release of suppression.

Keywords: anti-correlations; attention; default mode network; functional imaging methodology; opposing domains hypothesis; right temporo-parietal junction (rTPJ); social cognition; task positive network (TPN).