Person-specific theory of mind in medial pFC

B Locke Welborn, Matthew D Lieberman

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Although research on theory of mind has strongly implicated the dorsomedial pFC (incuding medial BA 8 and BA 9), the unique contributions of medial pFC (MPFC; corresponding to medial BA 10) to mentalizing remain uncertain. The extant literature has considered the possibility that these regions may be specialized for self-related cognition or for reasoning about close others, but evidence for both accounts has been inconclusive. We propose a novel theoretical framework: MPFC selectively implements "person-specific theories of mind" (ToMp) representing the unique, idiosyncratic traits or attributes of well-known individuals. To test this hypothesis, we used fMRI to assess MPFC responses in Democratic and Republican participants as they evaluated more or less subjectively well-known political figures. Consistent with the ToMp account, MPFC showed greater activity to subjectively well-known targets, irrespective of participants' reported feelings of closeness or similarity. MPFC also demonstrated greater activity on trials in which targets (whether politicians or oneself) were judged to be relatively idiosyncratic, making a generic theory of mind inapplicable. These results suggest that MPFC may supplement the generic theory of mind process, with which dorsomedial pFC has been associated, by contributing mentalizing capacities tuned to individuated representations of specific well-known others.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number1
Early online date11 Sep 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Politics
  • Prefrontal Cortex/physiology
  • Theory of Mind

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