Edinburgh Imaging

MSc projects 1617 008

Affect & cognition in theory of mind: a coordinate-based meta-analysis of functional MRI studies.

  • Background: Theory of Mind (TOM) has been a long-time debated and investigated construct across several scholarly domains in the cognitive and behavioral sciences. TOM underlies the human ability to explain and envisage behavior of the self and of others by assigning to them independent mental states. Traditionally, TOM has been conceptualized as both an affective—when there is the involvement of others’ emotions— and a cognitive process—when there is inference on others’ beliefs and thoughts. Yet, also given discrepancies in the literature, one of the most compelling and still partly answered quandary on TOM regards the basic nature of, and differences and commonalities between, these two processes.
  • Methods: Based on the growing, yet still largely parceled, functional neuroimaging research in TOM, the current project performed activation likelihood estimation (ALE) coordinate-based meta-analyses of fMRI studies, to identify brain regions that have been consistently implicated across experiments investigating affective and cognitive TOM. Here, we used an overall conservative statistical approach (i.e., voxel-level family-wise error) in order to provide added rigor to the understanding of the neural correlates of TOM. We retrieved 118 individual experiments from the current literature and grouped them into two categories reflecting the two processes of mentalizing.
  • Results: Our meta-analyses results showed involvement of the left superior temporal gyrus across cognitive and affective mentalizing. Subtraction analyses revealed significantly greater activation likelihood in the left inferior, superior, and middle temporal gyri in affective mentalizing as compared to cognitive TOM. Conversely, significantly greater activation likelihood in the precuneus, right temporal gyrus, and left medial frontal gyrus, among other brain regions, emerged in cognitive mentalizing relatively to affective TOM.
  • Conclusion: Overall, this work offers an integrative means to advance more nuanced knowledge accumulated from fMRI studies on TOM thus far, not only by pinpointing key neural regions distinctively implicated in affective and cognitive TOM processes, but also offering a foundational basis to advance future research on TOM in both functional neuroimaging and cognate disciplines.
Project type:
  • Meta-analysis
Imaging keywords:
  • fMRI
  • Functional neuroimaging
Application / disease keywords:
  • Theory of Mind (TOM)
  • 16-17