Damage to the left ventromedial prefrontal cortex impacts affective theory of mind


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Abstract

Studies investigating theory of mind (ToM) abilities (i.e. ability to understand and predict others’ mental states) have revealed that affective and cognitive functions play a significant role and that each of those functions are associated with distinct neural networks. Cognitive facets of ToM have implicated the medial prefrontal cortex, temporo-parietal junction and the anterior paracingulate cortex, whereas affective facets have implicated the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). Although the vmPFC has repeatedly shown to be critical for affective functions, knowledge regarding the exact role of the left and right vmPFC in affective ToM is still obscure. Here, we compared performances of 30 patients with left, right and bilateral vmPFC lesions to two comparison groups (one without and one with brain injuries) on the Faux Pas Recognition task measuring the facets of ToM. We also investigated whether any deficits may be associated with other emotional measures, namely emotional empathy and emotional intelligence. Our results extend earlier findings by showing that the vmPFC is associated with abilities in affective ToM. More importantly, our results revealed that the left, and not the right vmPFC as indicated previously, is involved in affective ToM and that this deficit is associated with emotional intelligence.

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