An integrative neural model of social perception, action observation, and theory of mind

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2015 Apr;51:263-75. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.01.020. Epub 2015 Feb 3.


In the field of social neuroscience, major branches of research have been instrumental in describing independent components of typical and aberrant social information processing, but the field as a whole lacks a comprehensive model that integrates different branches. We review existing research related to the neural basis of three key neural systems underlying social information processing: social perception, action observation, and theory of mind. We propose an integrative model that unites these three processes and highlights the posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS), which plays a central role in all three systems. Furthermore, we integrate these neural systems with the dual system account of implicit and explicit social information processing. Large-scale meta-analyses based on Neurosynth confirmed that the pSTS is at the intersection of the three neural systems. Resting-state functional connectivity analysis with 1000 subjects confirmed that the pSTS is connected to all other regions in these systems. The findings presented in this review are specifically relevant for psychiatric research especially disorders characterized by social deficits such as autism spectrum disorder.

Keywords: Action observation; Autism spectrum disorder; Functional connectivity; Imitation; Mentalizing; Mirror system; Neural systems; Posterior superior temporal sulcus; Psychiatric disorders; Social information processing; Social neuroscience; Social perception; Theory of mind.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Social Perception*
  • Theory of Mind / physiology*