We review nine current neurocognitive theories of how theory of mind (ToM) is implemented in the brain and evaluate them based on the results from a recent meta-analysis by Schurz et al. (2014), where we identified six types of tasks that are the most frequently used in imaging research on ToM. From theories about cognitive processes being associated with certain brain areas, we deduce predictions about which areas should be engaged by the different types of ToM tasks. We then compare these predictions with the observed activations in the meta-analysis, and identify a number of unexplained findings in current theories. These can be used to revise and improve future neurocognitive accounts of ToM.
theory of mind; mentalizing; neurocognitive theories; meta-analysis; task-categories; temporoparietal junction; medial prefrontal cortex
The intrinsic connectivity of the default mode network has been associated with the level of consciousness in patients with severe brain injury. Especially medial parietal regions are considered to be highly involved in impaired consciousness. To better understand what aspect of this intrinsic architecture is linked to consciousness, we applied spectral dynamic causal modeling to assess effective connectivity within the default mode network in patients with disorders of consciousness.
We included 12 controls, 12 patients in minimally conscious state and 13 in vegetative state in this study. For each subject, we first defined the four key regions of the default mode network employing a subject-specific independent component analysis approach. The resulting regions were then included as nodes in a spectral dynamic causal modeling analysis in order to assess how the causal interactions across these regions as well as the characteristics of neuronal fluctuations change with the level of consciousness.
The resulting pattern of interaction in controls identified the posterior cingulate cortex as the main driven hub with positive afferent but negative efferent connections. In patients, this pattern appears to be disrupted. Moreover, the vegetative state patients exhibit significantly reduced self-inhibition and increased oscillations in the posterior cingulate cortex compared to minimally conscious state and controls. Finally, the degree of self-inhibition and strength of oscillation in this region is correlated with the level of consciousness.
These findings indicate that the equilibrium between excitatory connectivity towards posterior cingulate cortex and its feedback projections is a key aspect of the relationship between alterations in consciousness after severe brain injury and the intrinsic functional architecture of the default mode network. This impairment might be principally due to the disruption of the mechanisms underlying self-inhibition and neuronal oscillations in the posterior cingulate cortex.
•In controls, the posterior cingulate cortex is the main driven hub within the default mode network.•In impaired consciousness, this pattern of interaction is disrupted.•The posterior cingulate cortex has lost its inhibitory regulation mechanisms.•Impaired consciousness may be due to disruption in these regulation mechanisms.•Findings emphasize the critical role of this posterior region in consciousness.
Disorders of consciousness; Effective connectivity; Vegetative state; Dynamic causal modeling; Default mode network; Posterior cingulate cortex
We asked participants to predict which of two colors a similar other (student) and a dissimilar other (retiree) likes better. We manipulated if color-pairs were two hues from the same color-category (e.g. green) or two conceptually different colors (e.g. green versus blue). In the former case, the mental state that has to be represented (i.e., the percept of two different hues of green) is predominantly non-conceptual or phenomenal in nature, which should promote mental simulation as a strategy for mentalizing. In the latter case, the mental state (i.e. the percept of green versus blue) can be captured in thought by concepts, which facilitates the use of theories for mentalizing. In line with the self-projection hypothesis, we found that cortical midline areas including vmPFC / orbitofrontal cortex and precuneus were preferentially activated for mentalizing about a similar other. However, activation was not affected by the nature of the color-difference, suggesting that self-projection subsumes simulation-like processes but is not limited to them. This indicates that self-projection is a universal strategy applied in different contexts—irrespective of the availability of theories for mentalizing. Along with midline activations linked to self-projection, we also observed activation in right lateral frontal and dorsal parietal areas showing a theory-like pattern. Taken together, this shows that mentalizing does not operate based on simulation or theory, but that both strategies are used concurrently to predict the choices of others.
We investigate the theory that the left inferior parietal lobe (IPL) is closely associated with tracking potential differences of perspective. Developmental studies find that perspective tasks are mastered at around 4 years of age. Our first study, meta-analyses of brain imaging studies shows that perspective tasks specifically activate a region in the left IPL and precuneus. These tasks include processing of false belief, visual perspective, and episodic memory. We test the location specificity theory in our second study with an unusual and novel kind of perspective task: identity statements. According to Frege's classical logical analysis, identity statements require appreciation of modes of presentation (perspectives). We show that identity statements, e.g., “the tour guide is also the driver” activate the left IPL in contrast to a control statements, “the tour guide has an apprentice.” This activation overlaps with the activations found in the meta-analysis. This finding is confirmed in a third study with different types of statements and different comparisons. All studies support the theory that the left IPL has as one of its overarching functions the tracking of perspective differences. We discuss how this function relates to the bottom-up attention function proposed for the bilateral IPL.
identity; false belief; episodic memory; visual perspective taking; fMRI; IPL; overarching function
Reading requires the interaction between multiple cognitive processes situated in distant brain areas. This makes the study of functional brain connectivity highly relevant for understanding developmental dyslexia. We used seed-voxel correlation mapping to analyse connectivity in a left-hemispheric network for task-based and resting-state fMRI data. Our main finding was reduced connectivity in dyslexic readers between left posterior temporal areas (fusiform, inferior temporal, middle temporal, superior temporal) and the left inferior frontal gyrus. Reduced connectivity in these networks was consistently present for 2 reading-related tasks and for the resting state, showing a permanent disruption which is also present in the absence of explicit task demands and potential group differences in performance. Furthermore, we found that connectivity between multiple reading-related areas and areas of the default mode network, in particular the precuneus, was stronger in dyslexic compared with nonimpaired readers.
dyslexia; fMRI; functional connectivity; reading; resting state; seed-voxel correlation mapping
Recovery of consciousness has been associated with connectivity in the frontal cortex and parietal regions modulated by the thalamus. To examine this model and to relate alterations to deficits in cognitive functioning and conscious processing, we investigated topological network properties in patients with chronic disorders of consciousness recovered from coma.
Resting state fMRI data of 34 patients with unresponsive wakefulness syndrome and 25 in minimally conscious state were compared to 28 healthy controls. We investigated global and local network characteristics. Additionally, behavioral measures were correlated with the local metrics of 28 regions within the fronto-parietal network and the thalamus.
In chronic disorders of consciousness, modularity at the global level was reduced suggesting a disturbance in the optimal balance between segregation and integration. Moreover, network properties were altered in several regions which are associated with conscious processing (particularly, in medial parietal, and frontal regions, as well as in the thalamus). Between minimally conscious and unconscious patients the local efficiency of medial parietal regions differed. Alterations in the thalamus were particularly evident in non-conscious patients. Most of the regions affected in patients with impaired consciousness belong to the so-called ‘rich club’ of highly interconnected central nodes. Disturbances in their topological characteristics have severe impact on information integration and are reflected in deficits in cognitive functioning probably leading to a total breakdown of consciousness.
•We investigated network properties in patients with a disorder of consciousness.•Patients showed reduced global modularity.•Alterations in regions of the rich club were related to impaired consciousness.•These alterations have severe impact on information integration and segregation.•Disturbances in overall integration may lead to breakdown of consciousness.
DOC, disorders of consciousness; ACC, anterior cingulate cortex; PCC, posterior cingulate cortex; MCS, minimally conscious state; VS/UWS, vegetative state/unresponsive wakefulness syndrome; Consciousness; Vegetative state; Network; Graph theory; Connectivity; Small world
Counterfactual thinking is ubiquitous in everyday life and an important aspect of cognition and emotion. Although counterfactual thought has been argued to differ from processing factual or hypothetical information, imaging data which elucidate these differences on a neural level are still scarce. We investigated the neural correlates of processing counterfactual sentences under visual and aural presentation. We compared conditionals in subjunctive mood which explicitly contradicted previously presented facts (i.e. counterfactuals) to conditionals framed in indicative mood which did not contradict factual world knowledge and thus conveyed a hypothetical supposition. Our results show activation in right occipital cortex (cuneus) and right basal ganglia (caudate nucleus) during counterfactual sentence processing. Importantly the occipital activation is not only present under visual presentation but also with purely auditory stimulus presentation, precluding a visual processing artifact. Thus our results can be interpreted as reflecting the fact that counterfactual conditionals pragmatically imply the relevance of keeping in mind both factual and supposed information whereas the hypothetical conditionals imply that real world information is irrelevant for processing the conditional and can be omitted. The need to sustain representations of factual and suppositional events during counterfactual sentence processing requires increased mental imagery and integration efforts. Our findings are compatible with predictions based on mental model theory.
► Neural correlates of processing counterfactual conditionals were investigated. ► We presented sentences in auditory and visual modality. ► Counterfactuals show stronger activations in cuneus and caudate nucleus. ► The findings are consistent with predictions based on mental model theory.
Counterfactual thinking; Conditionals; Subjunctive mood; Indicative mood; fMRI
The present study investigated the feasibility of using self-paced eye movements during reading (measured by an eye tracker) as markers for calculating hemodynamic brain responses measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Specifically, we were interested in whether the fixation-related fMRI analysis approach was sensitive enough to detect activation differences between reading material (words and pseudowords) and nonreading material (line and unfamiliar Hebrew strings). Reliable reading-related activation was identified in left hemisphere superior temporal, middle temporal, and occipito-temporal regions including the visual word form area (VWFA). The results of the present study are encouraging insofar as fixation-related analysis could be used in future fMRI studies to clarify some of the inconsistent findings in the literature regarding the VWFA. Our study is the first step in investigating specific visual word recognition processes during self-paced natural sentence reading via simultaneous eye tracking and fMRI, thus aiming at an ecologically valid measurement of reading processes. We provided the proof of concept and methodological framework for the analysis of fixation-related fMRI activation in the domain of reading research.
cerebrum; functional magnetic resonance imaging; language; visual word form area; visual word recognition
The present fMRI study investigated the effects of word-likeness of visual and auditory stimuli on activity along the ventral visual stream. In the context of a one-back task, we presented visual and auditory words, pseudowords, and artificial stimuli (i.e., false-fonts and reversed-speech, respectively). Main findings were regionally specific effects of word-likeness on activation in a left ventral occipitotemporal region corresponding to the classic localization of the Visual Word Form Area (VWFA). Specifically, we found an inverse word-likeness effect for the visual stimuli in the form of decreased activation for words compared to pseudowords which, in turn, elicited decreased activation compared to the artificial stimuli. For the auditory stimuli, we found positive word-likeness effects as both words and pseudowords elicited more activation than the artificial stimuli. This resulted from a marked deactivation in response to the artificial stimuli and no such deactivation for words and pseudowords. We suggest that the opposite effects of visual and auditory word-likeness on VWFA activation can be explained by assuming the involvement of visual orthographic memory representations. For the visual stimuli, these representations reduce the coding effort as a function of word-likeness. This results in highest activation to the artificial stimuli and least activation to words for which corresponding representations exist. The positive auditory word-likeness effects may result from activation of orthographic information associated with the auditory words and pseudowords. The view that the VWFA has a primarily visual function is supported by our findings of high activation to the visual artificial stimuli (which have no phonological or semantic associations) and deactivation to the auditory artificial stimuli. According to the phenomenon of cross-modal sensory suppression such deactivations during demanding auditory processing are expected in visual regions.
fMRI; neuroimaging; one-back task; word-likeness; word processing; VWFA; orthographic representations
We performed a quantitative meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging studies to identify brain areas which are commonly engaged in social and visuo-spatial perspective taking. Specifically, we compared brain activation for visual-perspective taking to activation for false belief reasoning, which requires awareness of perspective to understand someone's mistaken belief about the world which contrasts with reality. In support of a previous account by Perner and Leekam (2008), our meta-analytic conjunction analysis found common activation for false belief reasoning and visual perspective taking in the left but not the right dorsal temporo-parietal junction (TPJ). This fits with the idea that the left dorsal TPJ is responsible for representing different perspectives in a domain-general fashion. Moreover, our conjunction analysis found activation in the precuneus and the left middle occipital gyrus close to the putative Extrastriate Body Area (EBA). The precuneus is linked to mental-imagery which may aid in the construction of a different perspective. The EBA may be engaged due to imagined body-transformations when another's viewpoint is adopted.
neuroimaging meta-analysis; theory of mind; false belief; visual perspective taking; temporo-parietal junction
This study examined functional brain abnormalities in dyslexic German readers who – due to the regularity of German in the reading direction – do not exhibit the reading accuracy problem of English dyslexic readers, but suffer primarily from a reading speed problem. The in-scanner task required phonological lexical decisions (i.e., Does xxx sound like an existing word?) and presented familiar and unfamiliar letter strings of existing phonological words (e.g., Taxi-Taksi) together with nonwords (e.g., Tazi). Dyslexic readers exhibited the same response latency pattern (words < pseudohomophones < nonwords) as nonimpaired readers, but latencies to all item types were much prolonged. The imaging results were suggestive for a different neural organization of reading processes in dyslexic readers. Specifically, dyslexic readers, in response to lexical route processes, exhibited underactivation in a left ventral occipitotemporal region which presumably is engaged by visual-orthographic whole word recognition. This region was also insensitive to the increased visual-orthographic processing demands of the sublexical route. Reduced engagement in response to sublexical route processes was also found in a left inferior parietal region, presumably engaged by attentional processes, and in a left inferior frontal region, presumably engaged by phonological processes. In contrast to this reduced engagement of the optimal left hemisphere reading network (ventral OT, inferior parietal, inferior frontal), our dyslexic readers exhibited increased engagement of visual occipital regions and of regions presumably engaged by silent articulatory processes (premotor/motor cortex and subcortical caudate and putamen).
Based on our previous work, we expected the Visual Word Form Area (VWFA) in the left ventral visual pathway to be engaged by both whole-word recognition and by serial sublexical coding of letter strings. To examine this double function, a phonological lexical decision task (i.e., “Does xxx sound like an existing word?”) presented short and long letter strings of words, pseudohomophones, and pseudowords (e.g., Taxi, Taksi and Tazi). Main findings were that the length effect for words was limited to occipital regions and absent in the VWFA. In contrast, a marked length effect for pseudowords was found throughout the ventral visual pathway including the VWFA, as well as in regions presumably engaged by visual attention and silent-articulatory processes. The length by lexicality interaction on brain activation corresponds to well-established behavioral findings of a length by lexicality interaction on naming latencies and speaks for the engagement of the VWFA by both lexical and sublexical processes.
This fMRI study contrasted case-deviant and letter-deviant forms with familiar forms of the same phonological words (e.g., TaXi and Taksi vs. Taxi) and found, that both types of deviance led to increased activation in a left occipitotemporal region corresponding to the Visual Word Form Area. Case-deviant items, in addition, led to increased activation in a right occipitotemporal region and in a left occipital and a left posterior occipitotemporal region, possibly reflecting the increased demands on letter form coding. For letter-deviant items, in addition to the increased left occipitotemporal activation, a main finding was increased activation primarily in extended left frontal regions, possibly reflecting sublexically mediated access to word phonology. These findings are consistent with general features of cognitive dual-route models of visual word processing. Furthermore, they add support to the main feature of Dehaene et al.’s (2005) neural model of early stages of visual word processing . However, the increased activation found for case-deviant items in the VWFA cannot be immediately reconciled with the assumption of completely abstract case-independent orthographic word codes in the VWFA.
Functional MRI; visual word recognition; occipitotemporal cortex; visual word form area; orthographic processing
This study examined functional brain abnormalities in dyslexic German readers who – due to the regularity of German in the reading direction – do not exhibit the reading accuracy problem of English dyslexic readers, but suffer primarily from a reading speed problem. The in-scanner task required phonological lexical decisions (i.e., Does xxx sound like an existing word?) and presented familiar and unfamiliar letter strings of existing phonological words (e.g., Taxi-Taksi) together with nonwords (e.g., Tazi). Dyslexic readers exhibited the same response latency pattern (words < pseudohomophones < nonwords) as nonimpaired readers, but latencies to all item types were much prolonged. The imaging results were suggestive for a different neural organization of reading processes in dyslexic readers. Specifically, dyslexic readers, in response to lexical route processes, exhibited underactivation in a left ventral occipitotemporal (OT) region which presumably is engaged by visual-orthographic whole word recognition. This region was also insensitive to the increased visual-orthographic processing demands of the sublexical route. Reduced engagement in response to sublexical route processes was also found in a left inferior parietal region, presumably engaged by attentional processes, and in a left inferior frontal region, presumably engaged by phonological processes. In contrast to this reduced engagement of the optimal left hemisphere reading network (ventral OT, inferior parietal, inferior frontal), our dyslexic readers exhibited increased engagement of visual occipital regions and of regions presumably engaged by silent articulatory processes (premotor/motor cortex and subcortical caudate and putamen).
Developmental dyslexia; fMRI; Reading; Phonological lexical decision; Dual-route
We used fMRI to examine functional brain abnormalities of German-speaking dyslexics who suffer from slow effortful reading but not from a reading accuracy problem. Similar to acquired cases of letter-by-letter reading, the developmental cases exhibited an abnormal strong effect of length (i.e., number of letters) on response time for words and pseudowords.
Corresponding to lesions of left occipito-temporal (OT) regions in acquired cases, we found a dysfunction of this region in our developmental cases who failed to exhibit responsiveness of left OT regions to the length of words and pseudowords. This abnormality in the left OT cortex was accompanied by absent responsiveness to increased sublexical reading demands in phonological inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) regions. Interestingly, there was no abnormality in the left superior temporal cortex which—corresponding to the onological deficit explanation—is considered to be the prime locus of the reading difficulties of developmental dyslexia cases.
The present functional imaging results suggest that developmental dyslexia similar to acquired letter-by-letter reading is due to a primary dysfunction of left OT regions.