'Theory of mind' in the brain. Evidence from a PET scan study of Asperger syndrome

Neuroreport. 1996 Dec 20;8(1):197-201. doi: 10.1097/00001756-199612200-00040.


The ability to attribute mental states to others ('theory of mind') pervades normal social interaction and is impaired in autistic individuals. In a previous positron emission tomography scan study of normal volunteers, performing a 'theory of mind' task was associated with activity in left medial prefrontal cortex. We used the same paradigm in five patients with Asperger syndrome, a mild variant of autism with normal intellectual functioning. No task-related activity was found in this region, but normal activity was observed in immediately adjacent areas. This result suggests that a highly circumscribed region of left medial prefrontal cortex is a crucial component of the brain system that underlies the normal understanding of other minds.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prefrontal Cortex / blood supply
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Social Perception*
  • Syndrome
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed