Differential recruitment of theory of mind brain network across three tasks: An independent component analysis

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Abstract

Social neuroscience research has focused on an identified network of brain regions primarily associated with processing Theory of Mind (ToM). However, ToM is a broad cognitive process, which encompasses several sub-processes, such as mental state detection and intentional attribution, and the connectivity of brain regions underlying the broader ToM network in response to paradigms assessing these sub-processes requires further characterization. Standard fMRI analyses which focus only on brain activity cannot capture information about ToM processing at a network level. An alternative method, independent component analysis (ICA), is a data-driven technique used to isolate intrinsic connectivity networks, and this approach provides insight into network-level regional recruitment. In this fMRI study, three complementary, but distinct ToM tasks assessing mental state detection (e.g. RMIE: Reading the Mind in the Eyes; RMIV: Reading the Mind in the Voice) and intentional attribution (Causality task) were each analyzed using ICA in order to separately characterize the recruitment and functional connectivity of core nodes in the ToM network in response to the sub-processes of ToM. Based on visual comparison of the derived networks for each task, the spatiotemporal network patterns were similar between the RMIE and RMIV tasks, which elicited mentalizing about the mental states of others, and these networks differed from the network derived for the Causality task, which elicited mentalizing about goal-directed actions. The medial prefrontal cortex, precuneus, and right inferior frontal gyrus were seen in the components with the highest correlation with the task condition for each of the tasks highlighting the role of these regions in general ToM processing. Using a data-driven approach, the current study captured the differences in task-related brain response to ToM in three distinct ToM paradigms. The findings of this study further elucidate the neural mechanisms associated with mental state detection and causal attribution, which represent possible sub-processes of the complex construct of ToM processing.

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