Understanding the minds of others: A neuroimaging meta-analysis

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2016 Jun:65:276-91. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.03.020. Epub 2016 Apr 9.


Theory of mind (ToM) is an important skill that refers broadly to the capacity to understand the mental states of others. A large number of neuroimaging studies have focused on identifying the functional brain regions involved in ToM, but many important questions remain with respect to the neural networks implicated in specific types of ToM tasks. In the present study, we conducted a series of activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analyses on 144 datasets (involving 3150 participants) to address these questions. The ALE results revealed common regions shared across all ToM tasks and broader task parameters, but also some important dissociations. In terms of commonalities, consistent activation was identified in the medial prefrontal cortex and bilateral temporoparietal junction. On the other hand, ALE contrast analyses on our dataset, as well as meta-analytic connectivity modelling (MACM) analyses on the BrainMap database, indicated that different types of ToM tasks reliably elicit activity in unique brain areas. Our findings provide the most accurate picture to date of the neural networks that underpin ToM function.

Keywords: Activation likelihood estimation; Medial prefrontal cortex; Meta-analytic connectivity modelling; Temporoparietal junction; Theory of mind; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping
  • Comprehension
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Neuroimaging*
  • Theory of Mind