Functional Organization of Social Perception and Cognition in the Superior Temporal Sulcus

Cereb Cortex. 2015 Nov;25(11):4596-609. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhv111. Epub 2015 Jun 5.


The superior temporal sulcus (STS) is considered a hub for social perception and cognition, including the perception of faces and human motion, as well as understanding others' actions, mental states, and language. However, the functional organization of the STS remains debated: Is this broad region composed of multiple functionally distinct modules, each specialized for a different process, or are STS subregions multifunctional, contributing to multiple processes? Is the STS spatially organized, and if so, what are the dominant features of this organization? We address these questions by measuring STS responses to a range of social and linguistic stimuli in the same set of human participants, using fMRI. We find a number of STS subregions that respond selectively to certain types of social input, organized along a posterior-to-anterior axis. We also identify regions of overlapping response to multiple contrasts, including regions responsive to both language and theory of mind, faces and voices, and faces and biological motion. Thus, the human STS contains both relatively domain-specific areas, and regions that respond to multiple types of social information.

Keywords: social cognition; social perception; superior temporal sulcus.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Social Perception*
  • Temporal Lobe / blood supply
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Theory of Mind
  • Visual Perception
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen