Thinking about the thoughts of others; temporal and spatial neural activation during false belief reasoning

Neuroimage. 2016 Jul 1:134:320-327. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.03.053. Epub 2016 Mar 30.


Theory of Mind (ToM) is the ability to understand the perspectives, mental states and beliefs of others in order to anticipate their behaviour and is therefore crucial to social interactions. Although fMRI has been widely used to establish the neural networks implicated in ToM, little is known about the timing of ToM-related brain activity. We used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to measure the neural processes underlying ToM, as MEG provides very accurate timing and excellent spatial localization of brain processes. We recorded MEG activity during a false belief task, a reliable measure of ToM, in twenty young adults (10 females). MEG data were recorded in a 151 sensor CTF system (MISL, Coquitlam, BC) and data were co-registered to each participant's MRI (Siemens 3T) for source reconstruction. We found stronger right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ) activations in the false belief condition from 150ms to 225ms, in the right precuneus from 275ms to 375ms, in the right inferior frontal gyrus from 200ms to 300ms and the superior frontal gyrus from 300ms to 400ms. Our findings extend the literature by demonstrating the timing and duration of neural activity in the main regions involved in the "mentalizing" network, showing that activations related to false belief in adults are predominantly right lateralized and onset around 100ms. The sensitivity of MEG will allow us to determine spatial and temporal differences in the brain processes in ToM in younger populations or those who demonstrate deficits in this ability.

Keywords: False belief; Inferior frontal gyrus (IFG); Magnetoencephalography (MEG); Precuneus; Right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ); Social cognition; Theory of Mind.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping
  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Spatio-Temporal Analysis
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Theory of Mind / physiology*
  • Thinking / physiology*
  • Young Adult