The Frontal Lobes and Mental State Attribution

R. Shayna Rosenbaum and Jennifer S. Rabin

in Mind and the Frontal Lobes

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199791569
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919215 | DOI:
The Frontal Lobes and Mental State Attribution

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Inferring what other people are thinking or feeling appears effortless. It is becoming increasingly clear that this “theory of mind” (ToM) that humans possess engages separable cognitive and affective components depending on specific task demands and that these rely on distinct neural processes that are differentially vulnerable to insult. Close examination of dissociations in performance among patients with focal lesions may help to further decode the complexity of social awareness and its relationship to self-awareness. Based on increasingly more precise localization techniques, recent patient studies have focused on the separable roles of medial and lateral areas of prefrontal cortex (PFC) in affective and cognitive aspects of ToM, whereas recent neuroimaging efforts have been largely directed to differentiating ToM from self-related inferences. This chapter attempts to integrate these two literatures, pointing to finer functional segregation within the PFC, but necessarily in the context of more posterior brain regions. It also points to a need to adopt more ecologically valid measures of mental state attribution, as some tests (e.g., false belief test) might not be as diagnostic in adult populations as was once believed.

Keywords: theory of mind; autobiographical memory; affective processing; lesion method; neuroimaging; medial prefrontal cortex; temporoparietal junction; temporal poles; simulation

Chapter.  11675 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neuropsychology

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