Do We Mind Other Minds When We Mind Other Minds' Actions? A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study

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Abstract

Action observation engages higher motor areas, possibly reflecting an internal simulation. However, actions considered odd or unusual were found to trigger additional activity in the so-called theory of mind (ToM) network, pointing to deliberations on the actor's mental states. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging study, the hypothesis was tested that an allocentric perspective on a normal action, and even more so the sight of the actor's face, suffices to evoke ToM activity. Subjects observed short videos of object manipulation filmed from either the egocentric or the allocentric perspective, the latter including the actor's face in half of the trials. On the basis of a regions of interest analysis using ToM coordinates, we found increased neural activity in several regions of the ToM network. First, perceiving actions from an allocentric compared with the egocentric perspective enhanced activity in the left temporoparietal junction (TPJ). Second, the presence of the actor's face enhanced activation in the TPJ bilaterally, the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). Finally, the mPFC and PCC showed increased responses when the actor changed with respect to the preceding trial. These findings were further corroborated by zmap findings for the latter two contrasts. Together, findings indicate that observation of normal everyday actions can engage ToM areas and that an allocentric perspective, seeing the actor's face and seeing a face switch, are effective triggers. Hum Brain Mapp, 2011. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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