mise à jour du 14 août 2003
Trends in Cognitive Scie.
Functional imaging of theory of mind
Helen L. Gallagher and Christopher D. Frith
School of Health and Social Care, Glasgow Caledonian University, UK
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Abstract : Our ability to explain and predict other people's behaviour by attributing to them independent mental states, such as beliefs and desires, is known as having a 'theory of mind'. Interest in this very human ability has engendered a growing body of evidence concerning its evolution and development and the biological basis of the mechanisms underpinning it. Functional imaging has played a key role in seeking to isolate brain regions specific to this ability. Three areas are consistently activated in association with theory of mind. These are the anterior paracingulate cortex, the superior temporal sulci and the temporal poles bilaterally. This review discusses the functional significance of each of these areas within a social cognitive network.
The role of the STS
In addition to the anterior paracingulate cortex, two regions, the STS and the temporal poles bilaterally, consistently activate in studies of theory-of-mind ability. This activity is probably not related to the decoupling that is necessary for mentalizing. The functions of these regions might relate to abilities that aid mentalizing. It is from these pre-existing abilities that mentalizing has evolved. The precise role of the STS is still unclear. Gallagher et al. found predominantly right STS to be associated with understanding the meaning of stories and cartoons involving people, with or without the requirement to mentalize. Other functional neuroimaging studies of theory-of-mind tasks have associated STS activity with the involvement of people when understanding causality and intentionality, the attribution of intentions to the movements of geometric shapes and taking the self-perspective. It is likely that all of these tasks share one common function that is able to account for this consistent activation.
Biological motion
Functional imaging studies that examine the perception of biological motion activate the same region of the STS in association with hand actions, body movements, mouth movements and lip reading, implied biological motion and eye movements and gaze direction. In addition, Narumoto et al. found that the right STS was part of a network of face-responsive brain regions. Selective attention to facial emotion specifically enhanced the activity of the right STS compared with attention to the face per se. They attribute this activation to facial emotion recognition within a distributed face-processing system. Consideration of these findings has led researchers to speculate on the role of this region within a social cognitive network. Allison et al. suggest that the STS is sensitive to stimuli that signal the actions and intentions of another individual. The results of neuroimaging, electrophysiological and single-cell recording studies converge to suggest that initial analysis of social cues occurs in the STS region, which is anatomically well sited to integrate information derived from both the ventral and dorsal visual pathways. In accordance with this notion, Frith and Frith suggest that the STS is involved in the detection of the behaviour of agents and analysis of the goals and outcomes of this behaviour. The results of the Gallagher et, in particular, indicate that the right STS is involved in explaining the behaviour of others as a result of recognizing a physical cause or their mental state. This idea gains support from a recent fMRI study of social judgement. Winston et al. asked volunteers to view faces and make judgements on either trustworthiness or age. They found right STS activity when volunteers made explicit judgements about trustworthiness. The authors attribute this activity to intention detection from visual cues, a critical component in determining whether or not to trust an individual.
The role of the temporal poles
The temporal poles are generally associated with object and face recognition in primates. However, functional imaging studies of humans have activated the temporal poles in association with the broader context of episodic memory retrieval in visual and auditory domains. Thus the temporal poles are active during the recollection of familiar faces and scenes, the recognition of familiar voices, emotional memory retrieval and autobiographical memory retrieval. Taken together, these results suggest that the temporal poles are a store for personal semantic and episodic memories.
There are several reasons why episodic memory might be useful for mentalizing. If we are engaged in deception we need to remember what we said to someone the last time we met them. We might remember past episodes in which the behaviour we are observing now was associated with a particular mental state.We might draw on our past experience to imagine ourselves in the situation of another person and thereby 'simulate' their experience. We have already mentioned the importance of semantic memory for generating the scripts that enable us to anticipate the likely goals of particular people in particular situations. Patients with semantic dementia show atrophy in the anterior temporal lobes, especially on the left. As this atrophy progresses, these patients lose knowledge of all but the simplest and most concrete scripts. This should lead to specific difficulties with theory-of-mind tasks.