The special case of self-perspective inhibition in mental, but not non-mental, representation

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Abstract

The ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC) has been implicated in studies of both executive and social functions. Recent meta-analyses suggest that vlPFC plays an important but little understood role in Theory of Mind (ToM). Converging neuropsychological and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) evidence suggests that this may reflect inhibition of self-perspective. The present study adapted an extensively published ToM localizer to evaluate the role of vlPFC in inhibition of self-perspective. The classic false belief, false photograph vignettes that comprise the localizer were modified to generate high and low salience of self-perspective. Using a factorial design, the present study identified a behavioural and neural cost associated with having a highly salient self-perspective that was incongruent with the representational content. Importantly, vlPFC only differentiated between high versus low salience of self-perspective when representing mental state content. No difference was identified for non-mental representation. This result suggests that different control processes are required to represent competing mental and non-mental content.

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