Clarifying the role of theory of mind areas during visual perspective taking: Issues of spontaneity and domain-specificity

Neuroimage. 2015 Aug 15;117:386-96. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.04.031. Epub 2015 Apr 20.


Visual perspective taking is a fundamental feature of the human social brain. Previous research has mainly focused on explicit visual perspective taking and contrasted brain activation for other- versus self-perspective judgements. This produced a conceptual gap to theory of mind studies, where researchers mainly compared activation for taking another's mental perspective to non-mental control conditions. We compared brain activation for visual perspective taking to activation for non-mental control conditions where the avatar was replaced by directional (arrow, lamp) or non-directional (brick-wall) objects. We found domain-specific activation linked to the avatar's visual perspective in right TPJ, ventral mPFC and ventral precuneus. Interestingly, we found that these areas are spontaneously processing information linked to the other's perspective during self-perspective judgements. Based on a review of the visual perspective taking literature, we discuss how these findings can explain some of the inconsistent/negative results found in previous studies comparing other- versus self-perspective judgements.

Keywords: Automatic; Mentalizing; Precuneus; Spontaneous; TPJ; Theory of mind; Visual perspective taking; mPFC.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology
  • Theory of Mind / physiology*
  • Young Adult