The Enigmatic temporal pole: a review of findings on
social and emotional processing
Ingrid R.Olson, Alan Plotzker and Y oussef Ezzyat
Center for Cognitive Neuroscience,University of Pennsylvania, PA,USA
Correspondence to: Ingrid R. Olson, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania, 3720 Walnut Street,
Room B51, Philadelphia, PA19104-6196,USA
The function of the anterior-most portion of the temporal lobes, the temporal pole, is not well understood.
Anatomists have long considered it part of an extended limbic system based on its location posterior to the
orbital frontal cortex and lateral to the amygdala, along with its tight connectivity to limbic and paralimbic
regions. Here we review the literature in both non-human primates and humans to assess the temporal pole’s
putative role in social and emotional processing. Reviewed findings indicate that it has some role in both social
and emotional processes, including face recognition and theory of mind, that goes beyond semantic memory.
We propose that the temporal pole binds complex, highly processed perceptual inputs to visceral emotional
responses. Because perceptual inputs remain segregated into dorsal (auditory), medial (olfactory) and ventral
(visual) steams, the integration of emotion with perception is channel specific.
Keywords: perirhinal cortex; anterior temporal lobe; ba 38; face processing; frontotemporal dementia
Abbreviations: FTD¼frontal temporal dementia;TP¼temporal pole
Received October18, 2006. Revised January15, 2007 . Accepted February 26, 2007
There has been considerable attention devoted to under-
standing the neural basis of social and emotional proces-
sing. The appeal of understanding these processes is driven
partially by a need to understand disrupted socioemotional
processing that lies at the heart of many psychiatric
disorders. The two neuroanatomical regions most com-
amygdala and orbital portions of the prefrontal cortex.
Less attention has been paid to a third region that lies
between the orbital frontal cortex and the amygdala and
receives and sends connections to both regions: the
temporal pole (TP). Anatomists have referred to the TP
as a paralimbic region based on its anatomical location and
connectivity (Duvernoy, 1999; Mesulam, 2000). Whether
the human TP has any social or emotional functions is
not well-understood. An influential review of the fMRI
literature noted that little was known about the function-
ality of this region and that few fMRI studies had reported
activation there (Cabeza and Nyberg, 2000). This lack of
knowledge is surprising given the fact that for decades,
neurosurgeons have removed this area, along with diseased
medial temporal lobe regions, in epilepsy resection surgery.
Here we review the literature on the TP in hopes of filling
an anatomical void in the literature on socioemotional
functions and the brain. We begin by discussing TP
anatomy, and then move on to discuss Klu ¨ver–Bucy
syndrome in monkeys and humans, disordered social and
emotional processing in humans, face processing and theory
of mind. We end with a theoretical discussion that
synthesizes evidence on the particular role of the TP is
T emporal pole anatomy
There are several excellent reviews of the anatomy of the
anterior temporal lobe (Nakamura and Kubota, 1996;
Stefanacci et al., 1996; Gloor, 1997; Mesulam, 2000;
Kondo et al., 2003, 2005.) that we summarize here. The
temporal pole, also referred to as BA 38, planum polare,
area TG or the anterior aspect of perirhinal cortex, covers
the anterior-most end of the temporal lobe, somewhat like
a cap (Fig. 1). It is rostral to the perirhinal cortex. Some
investigators have included the TP within their definition of
the perirhinal cortex (Insausti et al., 1987a, b; Suzuki and
Amaral, 1994), which traditionally encompasses areas 35
and 36; however, it is more commonly considered a
separate region (Insausti et al., 1998).
The TP is highly interconnected with both the amygdala
and orbital frontal cortex and is therefore often referred to
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as a paralimbic region. A large white matter tract, the
uncinate fascicule, links the TP to prefrontal regions. Like
other limbic regions, the TP receives and sends projections
to the basal forebrain. It has been noted that the pattern of
connectivity of the TP bears striking similarity to that of
the amygdala. Dorsal portions of the TP project to the
hypothalamus, a neuromodulatory region important for
autonomic regulation of emotions. The tight connection
between the TP and the hypothalamus may explain why
electrical stimulation of the human TP produces changes in
heart rate, respiration and blood pressure (Gloor et al.,
The TP, along with the temporal–parietal junction, has
also been described as association cortex due to its unusual
connectivity. It sends and receives connections to the three
sensory systems represented in the temporal lobe. In the
macaque, the dorsolateral TP receives projections from
third-order auditory association cortex, the ventral TP
receives projections from extrastriate visual cortex in the
inferiortemporal lobe, and the medial TP receives projec-
tions from prepiriform olfactory cortex in medial aspects of
the temporal lobe. Furthermore, the medial TP receives
projections from the insula, which has an important role in
gustation and awareness of internal physiological state
(Critchley, 2004). Existing evidence from the macaque
indicates that these processing streams do not converge, but
rather, remain separate in the TP.
Because of a lack of anatomical data, it is unclear how
the connectivity of the human TP compares to that of the
macaque (Nakamura and Kubota, 1996). The language
functions that are present in human temporal lobe, for
example, make it possible that the connectivity of the
human TP differs significantly from that found in non-
human primates. As a first step in investigating this
possibility, we reviewed neuroimaging studies that reported
TP activations to a wide variety of tasks and stimuli and
plotted the coordinates of anterior temporal lobe activa-
tions on a standard brain. We found that these activations
tended to follow a dorsal/ventral segregation based upon
whether the stimuli used were auditory or visual (Fig. 2A;
methods found in Appendix A). This finding provides one
piece of evidence that the human TP has a similar pattern
of connectivity as the non-human primate TP. These
findings also suggest that one function of the human TP is
multimodal perceptual analysis. Its anatomical location
beyond perception to social and emotional processing,
T emporal pole and Klu « ver^Bucy syndrome
One of the first hints that the TP was involved in
socioemotional processing came from studies of Klu ¨ver–
Bucy syndrome. The Klu ¨ver–Bucy syndrome in monkeys
consists of tameness and diminished fear, hyperorality,
hypersexuality, blunted affect, visual agnosia and social
withdrawal (Kluver and Bucy, 1939; Kling et al., 1993).
Later studies found that lesions to the monkey TP, orbital
frontal cortex or amygdala produce most, but not all, of the
Klu ¨ver–Bucy symptoms (Horel et al., 1975; Kling and
Steklis, 1976; Kling et al., 1993). The exception to this is
‘psychic blindness’ or visual agnosia, which is only
produced when lesions include more posterior portions of
the temporal lobe. Lesions to nearby areas, including
inferior temporal cortex, superior temporal cortex, lateral
surface of the frontal lobe and the anterior cingulate do not
produce the striking social and emotional deficits of the
Klu ¨ver–Bucy syndrome (Kling and Steklis, 1976; Kling
et al., 1993).
Perhaps the most interesting symptom of the Klu ¨ver–Bucy
disorder is ‘social withdrawal’, a description that minimizes
the scope of social impairment. Female monkeys with
surgical lesions of the TP, excluding the amygdala, exhibit
grossly abnormal social behaviour (Bucher et al., 1970;
Fig.1 (A) Brodmann’s depiction of the lateral surface of the
human brain.The temporal pole (BA 38) is highlighted in orange.
(B) A schematic diagram of the inferior surface of the humanbrain
showing the anatomical relationship of the temporal pole to the
posterior orbital frontal cortex and the amygdala (in reality the
amygdala is buried under the cortex, but for the sake of
illustration, has been depicted on the surface).
Page 2 of14Brain (2007)I. R.Olson et al.
Myers, 1975; Kling and Steklis, 1976; Kling et al., 1993).
They do not produce appropriate social signals (vocal or
facial) nor do they appear to recognize the social signals of
peer monkeys. They showed little social interest in their
peers, and at times are rejected from their social group.
They become tame and show little aggression towards
peer monkeys when provoked. Those with babies are
neglectful and often violent towards them, causing con-
sternation among other female monkeys. Some, but not
all, of these social problems improve over time. Prefrontal
and amygdala lesions lead to a similar pattern
behaviour, underscoring the tight coupling of the TP to
these regions. In contrast, lesions to posterior temporal cortex
and Swett,1970; Franzenand Myers,1973;
(TE or inferior temporal cortex) cause no social problems.
(Table 1). These findings have been replicated in other species
of monkey (Kling and Steklis, 1976), suggesting that there is
evolutionary conservation of structure-function in the TP
across primate species.
One explanation that has been offered for these findings
is that prefrontal and TP regions are instrumental in
supporting group social behaviours such as the tendency to
band together to form societies, to participate in family life
and to interact with others in the social group (Myers,
1969). However, there are many potential mental processes
that sustain group social behaviours and no effort has been
made to disentangle which of them are disrupted with TP
damage. For instance, problems in recognizing the meaning
Fig. 2 Centres of activation from fMRI and PETreporting anterior temporal lobe activations to (A) auditory or visual stimuli.Red dots
show centres of activation reported for tasks that used clearly visual stimuli such as faces or houses, whereas blue dots show centres of
activation reported for tasks that used auditory stimuli such as voices or music. (B) Emotion or theory of mind tasks. Red dots show
centres of activation reported in emotion tasks, whereas blue dots show centres of activation reported in theoryofmind tasks. Activation
maps were created with MRIcro. Activation foci are shownin MNI space, inradiological convention (e.g. leftis on theright). Studies used to
create these images are listed in Appendices A and B.
Temporal pole and emotionBrain (2007) Page 3 of14
of social signals, in associating a social signal with the
proper response or with an emotional reaction, in social
interest, or in feeling emotions could all cause social
deviance. Nevertheless, these findings constitute the first
piece of evidence that the anterior temporal lobes, including
the TP, play some important role in socioemotional
T emporal pole and clinical disorders of
TP dysfunction in humans has been associated with a host
of socioemotional disorders. Klu ¨ver–Bucy syndrome can be
observed after bilateral medial and anterior temporal lobe
damage, as often occurs in herpes encephalitis (Lilly et al.,
1983). It has been observed after unilateral anterior
temporal lobe damage (Ghika-Schmid et al., 1995) and
(Anson and Kuhlman, 1993). It can also be observed in
dementing diseases that affect the anterior-medial temporal
lobes (Lilly et al., 1983).
One of the most interesting deficits in socioemotional
processing arises after atrophy to the right anterior
temporal lobe, typically seen in the temporal variant of
frontal temporal dementia (tv-FTD). FTD is a progressive
disease characterized by a somewhat rapid degeneration of
lobe epilepsy phenomenon
frontal and/or anterior temporal lobe tissue that can be left
or right lateralized, and frontal or temporal localized.
Temporal damage is most evident in polar regions, while
more medial regions, such as the hippocampus, remain
intact at early stages of the disease (Mummery et al., 2000;
Hodges, 2001). Patients with right, but not left, TP atrophy
due to the tv-FTD exhibit changes in personality and
socially appropriate behaviour (Thompson et al., 2003). For
instance, Gorno-Tempini and colleagues (2004) studied the
cognitive, behavioural and anatomical features of patient JT
who presented with marked changes in behaviour and
personality. JT changed from
empathic individual to a somewhat introverted and cold
individual, lacking in empathy. She also lost much of her
social dominance and became neurotic and demanding.
Her indiscriminate eating behaviours provided the clearest
evidence of her socially inappropriate behaviour. ‘If not
controlled, [she] would eat floral table decorations and
large quantities of butter, oil and jam by themselves’
(Gorno-Tempini et al., 2004).
As this example illustrates, tv-FTD can at times cause
partial or full-blown Klu ¨ver–Bucy syndrome. In fact, many
of the deficits found in right lateralized tv-FTD mimic
deficits observed in monkeys with surgical ablation of
bilateral TP (Table 2). It has been reported that these
patients have fixed facial expressions and have difficulties
in posing facial expressions. Their abnormal expressions
of affect make social interactions uncomfortable for
both strangers and family members. Other affect-related
problems include depression, irritability, apathy, emotional
T able1 Summary of social and emotional behavioural
change following bilateral ablation of orbital portions of the
prefrontal cortex (PFC), temporal pole (TP), amygdala,
inferior temporal cortex (IT) or anterior cingulated cortex
(ACC) in various species of adult Old World monkeys
BehaviourPFC TPAmygdala IT ACC
Klu « ver^Bucy
of facial and
Decreased social status x
Partial Partial Full
Note: It should be noted that Klu « ver^Bucy symptoms were only
observed in laboratory monkeys while free-ranging monkeys
tended to instead show severe social disinterest and withdrawal.
Also, ablations in infant monkeys tend to cause less marked social
deficits. Evidence derived from (Bucher et al.,1970; Franzen and
Myers,1973; Kling and Steklis,1976; Kling et al.,1993; Miller et al.,
1995,1997; Mychack et al., 2001; Amaral et al., 2003; Hadland et al.,
2003;Thompson et al., 2003).
T able 2 A list of social and emotional deficits exhibited by
monkeys with surgical ablation of bilateral TP, sparing the
amygdala and analogous social and emotional deficits
observed in humans with right lateralized tv-FTD
Monkeys withTP ablationHumans with right tv-FTD
Loss of production of
facial or vocal signalling
Loss of production of
Loss or poor recognition
of facial expressions
Self-centred; loss of empathy;
preoccupation with non-social
stimuli (e.g. jigsaw puzzles)
Avoided by family and friends
Loss of extraversion and social
Loss of recognition of peer
facial or vocal signals
Decreased interest in peers
Rejection from social group
Decreased status in social
Aberrant and neglectful
Aberrant sexual behaviour
Hypo or hyper-sexuality
bizarre changes in dress
Note: Evidence derived from (Bucher et al.,1970; Franzen and
Myers,1973; Kling and Steklis,1976; Kling et al.,1993; Miller et al.,
1995,1997; Mychack et al., 2001;Thompson et al., 2003).
Page 4 of14Brain (2007)I. R.Olson et al.
blunting and being ill at ease in company (Miller et al.,
1995; Miller et al., 1997; Bozeat et al., 2000; Mychack et al.,
2001; Thompson et al., 2003). It is likely that some of the
Klu ¨ver–Bucy symptoms resulting from bilateral TP damage
are due to severing of white matter connections to other
brain regions. Enhancement of oral tendencies has been
produced experimentally by ablation of orbital frontal
cortex (Butter et al., 1969), and combined hyperphagia and
hypersexuality has been observed in humans with thalamic
lesions (Poeck and Pilleri, 1965). Both regions are highly
interconnected with the TP (Mesulam, 2000).
TP damage can lead to unstable mood states. Damage
due to trauma or surgical resection can lead to rapidly
cycling bipolar disorder (Murai and Fujimoto, 2003) or
rapidly cycling changes in clinical levels of depression,
anxiety and irritation (Glosser et al., 2000). The link
between vascilating mood states and TP damage is also
found in reports that traumatic or surgical damage to the
anterior temporal lobe damage is associated with acquired
bipolar disorder (Jorge et al., 1993; Brooks and Hoblyn,
2005) and mania (Carran et al., 2003). Last, there are
intriguing links between anterior temporal lobe dysfunction
and schizophrenia: several studies have reported that
schizophrenics have smaller than normal temporal poles
(Gur et al., 2000; Kasai et al., 2003; Crespo-Facorro et al.,
2004) and that TP neurons in post-mortem schizophrenic
brain samples have abnormal microstructure (Ong and
Garey, 1993). Schizophrenia-like psychoses, when present in
epileptics, are most commonly observed when the seizure
foci is in the left anterior temporal lobe (Glosser et al.,
T emporal pole and face processing
The ability to recognize and identify other people is
fundamental to human social processing. Numerous studies
have identified a region of temporal cortex near the
superior temporal sulcus in non-human primates that
contains cells responsive to faces (Perrett et al., 1985;
Desimone, 1991; Gross, 1992) and an analogous region has
been identified in inferior portions of the human temporal
lobe (Kanwisher et al., 1997). Fewer investigators are aware
of evidence implicating the TP in face processing. There are
four sources of evidence.
First, bilateral lesions to the anterior temporal lobes can
cause a particular type of prosopagnosia termed ‘amnesic
associative prosopagnosia’ by Damasio and colleagues
(1990; see Fig. 3). Its name is based on the observation
that it often occurs in the context of amnesia (Damasio
et al., 1990). Two distinguishing features of this type of
prosopagnosia are that patients’ have preserved perception
of faces, but impaired recognition of faces, and their deficit
extends to non-face recognition cues like voice and gait.
Bilateral damage and memory loss may not be necessary
conditions for this disorder, as similar profiles of spared
face perception and impaired face recognition have been
reported for cases in which memory is intact and anterior
temporal lobe damage is unilateral (Sergent and Signoret,
1992; Barton et al., 2001, 2004).
Anterior temporal lobe resection surgery can also
produce face processing deficits. Findings from this line
of research have revealed interesting laterality differences.
Left resection surgery can cause impaired proper naming
abilities when shown photos of famous faces, while right
resection surgery can cause impaired recognition of famous
(Glosser et al., 2003) or personally familiar (Tippett et al.,
2000) faces. Such deficits are observed whether naming
people from a picture or a verbal description (Fukatsu
et al., 1999; Glosser et al., 2003; Tsukiura et al., 2003). Left
TP resection can impair the ability to learn new face–name
associations, whereas this is not true of right TP resections
(Tsukiura et al., 2003).
Second, temporal pole atrophy, as seen in tv-FTD, can
Thompson et al. (2003) found that 31 of the 47 FTD
patients in their study had specific complaints of difficulty
recalling people’s names. As with temporal lobe resection
cases, name recognition difficulties are more commonly
associated with left lateralized damage, while face recogni-
tion difficulties are more common after right-lateralized
damage (Snowden et al., 2004). This type of face processing
deficit has been termed
(Barbarotto et al., 1995; Evans et al., 1995; Gentileschi
et al., 1999, 2001; Gainotti et al., 2003; Joubert et al., 2003;
Snowden et al., 2004).
Third, two studies in which face-related event-related
potentials (ERPs) were recorded from electrodes implanted
in the human brain reported that late face-specific ERPs
(around 350ms) were found in the ventral TP. These
ERPs were later than face ERPs found in more posterior
visual areas, and were right-lateralized whereas fusiform
ERPs were bilateral (Allison et al., 1994, 1999).
Fourth, a few neuroimaging studies have reported
activations in the TP to faces. Some studies have reported
Fig. 3 A schematic diagram of distribution of damage found in
cases of amnesic associative prosopagnosia, also termed associa-
tive agnosia.The lesions shown in this diagram are bilateral and
involve the anterior but not posterior temporal lobe (reprinted
from Damasio et al.1990, with permission).
Temporal pole and emotionBrain (2007) Page 5 of14
increased activations to familiar faces as compared to
unfamiliar faces (Gorno-Tempini et al., 1998; Leveroni
et al., 2000; Nakamura et al., 2000; Grabowski et al., 2001;
Pourtois et al., 2005; Rothstein et al., 2005; Sergent et al.,
1992; Sugiura et al., 2001) which concurs with lesion
studies showing that the anterior temporal lobe is critical
for person, but not face, recognition (Damasio et al., 1990).
Other studies have reported increased activations to
emotional faces as compared to neutral faces (Phillips
et al., 1998; Blair et al., 1999; Tsukiura et al., 2003; Kim
et al., 2005).
In sum, evidence from numerous sources indicates that
the anterior temporal lobe, though not critical for the
perceptual analysis of faces, is critical for linking person-
specific memories to perceptual representations of faces.
Clearly, sucha processis
interactions and as such, may help to explain some of the
deviant social behaviour exhibited by monkeys with TP
lesions, reviewed earlier.
Is the TP selective for face processing? There are reports
of patients with circumscribed TP damage that cannot
recognize celebrities or name them from descriptions but
have unimpaired recognition of landmarks (Gainotti et al.,
2003; Damasio et al., 2004; Tranel, 2006). However, while
face recognition difficulties are usually the earliest and most
prominent symptom of TP damage due to progressive
prosopagnosia (Barbarotto et al., 1995; Evans et al., 1995;
Gentileschi et al., 2001; Gainotti et al., 2003; Thompson
et al., 2003; Snowden et al., 2004), difficulties often extend
to other modalities, such as recognizing people from their
voice (Gentileschi et al., 2001; Gainotti et al., 2003), their
name (Evans et al., 1995; Snowden et al., 2004) and even by
their handwriting (Gentileschi et al., 2001). In other words,
unlike prosopagnosics with more posterior damage, pro-
gressive prosopagnosics lose all access to stored representa-
tions of person-related knowledge, a type of semantic
Progressive prosopagnosics can exhibit other types of
recognition problems too, such as an inability to recognize
famous monuments and songs (Barbarotto et al., 1995;
Gentileschi et al., 2001). Neuroimaging studies have largely
confirmed these findings: two PET studies reported over-
lapping right temporal pole activations in response to
viewing familiar faces and familiar buildings (Nakamura
et al., 2000; Grabowski et al., 2001).
These findings can be reconciled if one takes into
account the severity of impairment. It has been noted that
TP patients with the worst person recognition scores also
have difficulty with other non-person proper names
(Hanley and Kay, 1998). A similar explanation can be
applied to tv-FTD patients with person-identification
deficits since patients with selective deficits identifying
people (Evans et al., 1995; Gainotti et al., 2003) are
nevertheless, quantitatively better at face-recognition than
are patients whose impairments extend to other unique
items (Barbarotto et al., 1995; Gentileschi et al., 2001).
critical for adept social
This finding suggests that the TP is necessary, but not
specialized, for person recognition. Person recognition may
simply be more sensitive to neuronal loss in the TP than
are other types of subordinate-level recognition.
Thinking about others: theory of mind
Theory of mind is the ability to infer the desires, intentions
or beliefs of others. There are several ways to study this,
although one of the most common ways is to read short
stories or view cartoons that depict a scenerio in which
another’s thoughts or beliefs must be inferred. Many
neuroimaging studies (Table 3), using different tasks and
stimuli, have implicated the temporal poles in theory of
mind (see Fig. 2B for activations patterns) (Fletcher et al.,
1995; Goel et al., 1995; Baron-Cohen et al., 1999; Brunet
et al., 2000; Gallagher et al., 2000; McCabe et al., 2001;
Vogeley et al., 2001; Berthoz et al., 2002; Ferstl and von
Cramon, 2002; Gallagher et al., 2002; Calarge et al., 2003;
Walter et al., 2004; Mitchell et al., 2006; Saxe and Powell,
2006). An implicit theory of mind task in which subjects
viewed geometric shapes that moved with intentionality and
cause (Heider and Simmel, 1944) has been used by several
groups who also found activations in the temporal pole
(Castelli et al., 2000; Schultz et al., 2003; German et al.,
2004; Iacoboni et al., 2004; Ohnishi et al., 2004).
Other tasks that require subjects to think about others’
thoughts and emotions have produced TP activations. One
study reported TP activations when subjects were asked to
detect deception (Grezes et al., 2004), while another study
reported TP activations when subjects were asked to make
moral decisions (Moll et al., 2002b; Heekeren et al., 2003).
At least three studies have reported activations in the
temporal pole while inferring the emotional state of others
(Farrow et al., 2001; Carr et al., 2003; Vollm et al., 2006).
TP activations correlate with ‘personal distress scores’, a
measure of how much you feel another’s negative emotions,
in normal populations of college students (Moriguchi et al.,
2006). Interestingly, Vollm and colleagues (2006) found
that activation clusters for a theory of mind task and an
empathy task overlapped in the TP, leading them to suggest
that this region functions generally in making inferences
about the mental state of others. These findings have led
some researchers to conclude that the temporal poles are a
critical part of the ‘mentalizing’ brain (Frith, 2001; Frith
and Frith, 2003).
Neuropsychological studies have provided mixed results
for this theory. One of the only neuropsychological studies
that examined this topic tested a large sample of patients
with various degrees of amygdala damage. The results
showed that adult-onset amygdala damage did not generally
impair theory of mind performance and importantly, that
extra-amygdala damage to the TP did not compromise
theory of mind abilities (Shaw et al., 2004). This finding
casts some doubt on the idea that the TP (or the amygdala)
is critical for theory of mind in adults, although it should
Page 6 of14Brain (2007)I. R.Olson et al.
be noted that the TP was only partially damaged in all
cases. In contrast, evidence from tv-FTD lends support to
the theory that the TP is critical for theory of mind. A
common complaint among family members of patients
with tv-FTD is that the patient exhibits a pervasive lack of
empathy (Mychack et al., 2001). Recent findings show that
patients with FTD have lower levels of empathy than
controls or patients with Alzheimer’s disease (Rankin et al.,
2006) and that tv-FTD is associated with disruption of both
emotional empathy and perspective-taking, one measure of
cognitive empathy that is similar to theory of mind (Rankin
et al., 2006).
Various ideas have been offered for how to interpret
these findings. One suggestion is that TP activations in
theory of mind tasks reflect retrieval of semantic memory
scripts (Frith and Frith, 2003); however, there is no reason
to think that the semantic memory demands of theory of
mind tasks are any different from the semantic memory
demands of non-theory of mind control tasks. This is
especially true of theory of mind tasks that used geometric
shapes that move with intentionality and cause (Castelli
et al., 2000; Schultz et al., 2003). Another interpretation is
that the TP has some role in encoding personal memories
(Nakamura and Kubota, 1995) and thus in theory of mind
tasks, the TP utilizes personal memories to comprehend the
state of mind of others (Moriguchi et al., 2006). Last, it is
possible that theory of mind tasks taps person recognition
functions of the TP, although this idea does not account for
the fact that most studies of face processing and gaze
processing have failed to report activations in the TP.
Further consideration of this topic is found in the section
titled ‘Negative Findings’.
The temporal pole in socioemotional
processing: theoretical considerations
The studies reviewed in the previous sections provide
convincing evidence that the TP plays some role in
socioemotional processing. We now turn to the problem
of defining what exactly that role is. We have already
provided some analysis of the function of this region for
face processing and theory of mind processing; here we
offer a more general framework for understanding the
social and emotional functionality of the TP. It has been
suggested that the TP is part of a system that modulates
visceral emotional functions in response to emotionally
evocative perceptual stimuli, based on its anatomical
connectivity (Kondo et al., 2003, 2005). We further suggest
that this system is reactivated when emotions are perceived
or imagined and that mnemonic functions of this region
allow for storage of perception–emotion linkages, forming
the basis of personal semantic memory.
The macaque dorsal TP receives input from auditory
association areas (Kondo et al., 2003), cells in this region
are known to respond to complex auditory stimuli
(Kondo et al., 2003; Poremba et al., 2003), and as shown
in Fig. 2A, auditory stimuli tend to activate dorsal portions
of the anterior temporal lobe, with a left-lateralization bias.
T able 3 A list of neuroimaging studies of mentalizing or theory of mind
Faces MoviesComicsGame Stories Yes No
Note: Studies that used head coils are excluded from the list.The type of visual stimulus is listed in the middle columns, and the far right
columns indicate whether or not temporal pole activations were observed.
Temporal pole and emotion Brain (2007)Page 7 of14
If our hypothesis is true, it is possible that dorsal portions
of the TP are responsible for coupling visceral emotional
responses with representations of complex auditory stimuli.
A case study hints at this possibility. It was reported that in
the year after having left temporal lobectomy surgery,
a young man exhibited dramatic changes in musical taste.
‘He found that the [rock] music he used to listen to before
the operation sounded ‘‘too hard, too fast, and too
violent’’. He now had a preference for Celtic or Corsican
polyphonic singing’ and ‘...he now had difficulty staying
with his old friends, since he could no longer share his
musical preferences and hence his topics of discussion’
(Sellal et al., 2003). Thus loss of the left TP led to changes
in emotional reactions to complex auditory stimuli and,
subsequently, to changes in social affiliation. At least two
neuroimaging studies have reported activations in this
(Lorberbaum et al., 2002) or woman screaming (Royet
et al., 2000). Many neuroimaging studies have reported
activations in this region to pleasant sounds such as
complex music (Brown et al., 2004; Platel, 2005; Satoh
et al., 2006) and laughter (Royet et al., 2000).
In contrast, the macaque ventral TP receives inputs from
visual association areas in the inferior temporal lobe
(Kondo et al., 2003) and is thought to be the endpoint of
visual processing. Cells in the macaque TP respond most
strongly to complex visual stimuli (Nakamura et al., 1994;
Nakamura and Kubota, 1996) and as shown in Fig. 2A,
ventral portions of the human TP tend to respond to
complex visual stimuli such
hypothesis would predict that ventral portions of the TP
couple visceral emotional responses to complex visual
stimuli. Sellal (2003) reported that the lobectomy patient
who experienced a radical change in musical tastes, also
exhibited changes in pictoral preferences, a finding that has
also been noted in the FTD literature (Miller et al., 1998,
2000). Some PET and fMRI studies have used visual stimuli
to evoke negative emotions and found activations in the TP
to emotions such as sadness (Lane et al., 1997b; Blair et al.,
1999; Eugene et al., 2003; Levesque et al., 2003), anxiety
(Reiman et al., 1989; Chua et al., 1999; Kimbrell et al.,
1999), anger (Dougherty et al., 1999; Kimbrell et al., 1999;
Damasio et al., 2000), fear (Phillips et al., 1998) and disgust
(Lane et al., 1997b; Phillips et al., 1998). TP activations
have also been associated with various positive emotions
such as humour generated by cartoons (Mobbs et al., 2003),
sexual arousal induced by pornography (Redoute et al.,
2000; Beauregard et al., 2001) or maternal feeling generated
by watching a video of one’s own infant (Ranote et al.,
Medial aspects of the macaque TP receive olfactory and
gustatory inputs (Mesulam, 2000). Few studies have
humans; there is some evidence from PET that the TP is
responsive to valenced olfactory stimuli (Royet et al., 2000).
such asa baby crying
as faces, cartoons
One prediction of our hypothesis is that damage to the
TP should cause a decoupling of high-level perception with
visceral emotional experience. One study reported that a
patient who underwent right temporal lobectomy lost all
emotional attachments to his family members, although
recognition of them remained intact (Lipson et al., 2003). It
has also been reported that a patient with a large right TP
lesion extending posteriorly in the fusiform gyrus believed
that her family had been replaced by imposters (Hudson
and Grace, 2000), possibly due to a decoupling between
neural face recognition systems and emotion systems
(Hirstein and Ramachandran, 1997). Last, as noted earlier,
monkeys with bilateral TP ablations lose normal emotional
attachments to their infants and to peer monkeys (Bucher
et al., 1970; Kling and Steklis, 1976).
A question that arises is how does the TP differ
functionally from the amygdala or the orbital frontal
cortex? One strong possibility is that within the TP there
is still sensory-limbic segregation of auditory, visual and
olfactory channels that is not present in the amygdala or
orbital frontal cortex (Kling and Steklis, 1976). This raises
the possibility of modality-specific socioemotional disor-
ders. Resection for temporal lobe epilepsy would cause
unilateral damage to the entire TP. However, trauma,
stroke or tumour could cause focal damage to only one
There is a growing neuroimaging literature on socio-
emotional processing. Most of these studies report amyg-
dala and various frontal activations, but do not report TP
activations. One difficulty in interpreting null results is that
the lack of activations could either mean that the TP is
insensitive to the task or stimulus or it could simply reflect
the fact that air-tissue inhomogeneities, a problem in
imaging all neural regions near the sinuses, have diminished
the BOLD signal to such a degree that no activations are
visible (Devlin et al., 2000). An additional problem is that
the existing literature on socioemotional processing has at
times emphasized activations in the amygdala and frontal
regions but downplayed activations in regions such as the
TP. TP activations are frequently listed in tables but are not
discussed (Beauregard et al., 2001; Moll et al., 2002b), or
are lumped into ill-defined anatomical categories such as
‘periamygdaloid’ or ‘paralimbic cortex’ (Miller et al., 2005;
Dapretto et al., 2006), which tends to obscure the reader’s
ability to discern TP activations.
These issues aside, it is interesting to note that TP
activations are frequently observed in complex emotional
tasks such as theory of mind tasks, but less frequently
observed in simpler emotional tasks, such as emotional
face perception or gaze perception tasks. Table 3 lists
neuroimaging studies of theory of mind and shows that
the TP is activated by a variety of stimuli: movies, comics,
sentences and stories. The instances in which it is not
Page 8 of14 Brain (2007)I. R.Olson et al.
activated are informative. For instance no activations were
observed in one study that used animated sequences that
lacked a social component (Blakemore et al., 2003), whereas
animated sequences that contain a social component are
overwhelmingly associated with TP activations (Castelli
et al., 2000; Schultz et al., 2003; German et al., 2004; Grezes
et al., 2004; Iacoboni et al., 2004; Ohnishi et al., 2004).
Although a social component appears to be necessary to
activate this region, it is not sufficient. Two studies in
which comparisons were made between conditions in which
subjects thought they were playing computer games against
humans versus computers did not report TP activations
(Gallagher et al., 2002; Rilling et al., 2004) nor have studies
that have examined various aspects of eye gaze (Calder
et al., 2002).
The findings to date from neuroimaging studies of theory
of mind suggest that the TP is sensitive to stimuli that tell a
story. More specifically, the TP is sensitive to stimuli with
socially important narratives, either in the form of a film
strip, a comic strip or a story, and to tasks that require one
to analyse other agent’s emotions, intentions or beliefs. It is
somewhat insensitive to stimuli with non-social narratives
and to tasks that require simple perceptual-level analyses
such as direction of gaze.
As mentioned earlier, bilateral removal of monkey TP
disrupts the ability to recognize, interpret and react to a
host of social signals (Kling and Steklis, 1976). This region
contains cells that are responsive to complex visual and
auditory stimuli (Nakamura and Kubota, 1996; Kondo
et al., 2003, 2005). These cells are critical for both high-level
perception and perceptual memory because they demon-
strate certain mnemonic properties (Nakamura and Kubota,
1996). One can therefore interpret the neuroimaging
findings from theory of mind tasks as reflecting the linkage
of recognized social cues to emotional interpretations and
reactions. Unlike regions such as the superior temporal
sulcus, which is sensitive to biological motion and direction
of gaze (Puce and Perrett, 2003), the TP is sensitive to
complex social stimuli with a narrative or script.
There is some evidence pointing towards interesting
laterality differences in the TP. The right anterior temporal
lobe appears to be associated with emotion and socially
relevant memory. Right lateralized temporal lobe epilepsy is
associated with a higher prevalence (83 versus 69%) of
axis-I psychiatric disorders such as major depression and
anxiety disorders as compared to left lateralized temporal
lobe epilepsy (Glosser et al., 2000). Atrophy of the right
anterior temporal lobe in tv-FTD is associated with
changes in mood (e.g. emotional blunting, depression,
irritability, apathy), personality (e.g. from extraverted to
introverted; sudden acquisition of peculiar new interests
and hobbies) and in socially appropriate behaviour (Miller
et al., 1995, 1997; Bozeat et al., 2000; Mychack et al., 2001;
Thompson et al., 2003). The degree to which these social
problems reflect temporal or frontal damage is difficult
to estimate since only macroscopic tissue loss is evident
It has been suggested that the right TP is the storehouse
(Nakamura et al.,2000),
(Markowitsch, 1995) of personal, episodic memories. This
hypothesis is based on findings showing that resection of
the right TP can diminish that ability to recognize, or recall
any information about famous or personally familiar faces
(Fukatsu et al., 1999; Tippett et al., 2000; Glosser et al.,
2003; Tsukiura et al., 2003). This deficit may reflect in part,
a difficulty in recalling personal memories relevant to the
test faces. A unique patient, RFR, after suffering damage to
mostly the right and to a minor extent the left anterior
temporal lobe, could generate names and information
about family friends, but was unable to give any informa-
tion about personal interactions or episodes pertaining to
the same family friends (McCarthy and Warrington, 1992).
In contrast, the left anterior temporal lobe is more closely
associated with semantic memory. Left resection surgery
leaves the ability to generate information about people
intact, but causes proper naming abilities (Glosser et al.,
2003) and face–name associative learning (Tsukiura et al.,
2003) to plummet. Similarly, left anterior temporal lobe
atrophy in tv-FTD is largely associated with semantic
memory impairments (Snowden et al., 2004). A review of
retrograde amnesia cases found that left frontal/anterior
temporal lobe damage usually led to loss of previously
learned semantic memory, but left episodic memory intact
These findings raise the possibility that the right TP
functions to link high-level sensory representations with
emotional responses and social memory. The left TP
functions to link high-level sensory representations, such
as a face, with semantic information. However, more
research is needed to clarify whether such a dissociation
or cite of recollection
Social or emotional processing?
Any disruption of emotional processing will cause changes
in social behaviour because normal social behaviour is
predicated on emotion. Do the social deficits that are
associated with TP damage go beyond emotional dysfunc-
tion? It is plausible that some of the social deficits reported
in monkeys with bilateral TP lesions are actually due to a
decoupling of emotions with perception and behaviour. For
instance, the finding that mother monkeys forcibly reject
their infants after TP damage may be due to the fact that
the sight, smell and sound of their infant no longer arouses
protective, nurturing maternal emotions, so the infant is
rejected. Likewise, the failure to make and respond
appropriately to social signals may be due to the fact that
social interactions of any sort fail to elicit positive,
rewarding emotions after TP damage. It is even possible
Temporal pole and emotion Brain (2007) Page 9 of14
that learned associations between perception and emotion
behaviour toward other monkeys.
Many of the strange social behaviours associated with tv-
FTD can also be viewed as a decoupling between perception
and emotion. It has been reported that such patients often
become introverted and cold (Rankin et al., 2003), possibly
reflecting a failure to derive pleasure or reward from social
interactions. And as mentioned earlier, theory of mind tasks
may rely on emotional processing to derive a social
However, there are some findings that do not neatly fit
into the emotion category. First, there is a great deal of
evidence pointing towards a role of the right TP in face
memory and autobiographical memory, while the left TP
has some role in personal semantic memory. These types of
memory can be construed as types of social memory, and
cannot be easily construed as fundamentally emotion-based.
Second, the reviewed findings on neuroimaging studies of
theory of mind indicate that TP activations are most
frequently seen with tasks and stimuli in which there is
some sort of social narrative, while simpler emotional
stimuli rarely evoke TP activations. In sum, the data clearly
indicate that the TP is involved in emotional processing
while newer findings indicate that it may also have some
role in social processing that goes beyond emotional
Summary of social and emotional findings
The findings reviewed here support the functional role of
the TP as a paralimbic region. The monkey lesion literature
showed that bilateral TP lesions cause abnormal social and
emotional processing. In humans, atrophy of the right TP
and surrounding regions, found in right temporal variant of
frontal temporal dementia, is distinguished by profound
changes to personality, emotional regulation and social
behaviour that mimic the deficits observed in monkeys with
TP lesions. Other findings indicate that the TP is critical for
aspects of face processing, specifically, recognition from
auditory or visual cues. The former process may be linked
to ventral aspects, the latter to dorsal aspects. Last, the
neuroimaging literature links the TP to emotional proces-
sing of auditory, olfactory and visual stimuli and to
mentalizing, or theory of mind.
We propose that a general function of the TP is to
couple emotional responses to highly processed sensory
stimuli. The mnemonic functions of this region allow for
storage of perception–emotion linkages, forming the basis
of personal semantic memory.
This hypothesis acknowledges that the TP is involved in
high-level recognition as the end point of the auditory and
visual ‘what’ streams, but also proposes that the function-
ality of this region extends beyond linking perceptual and
mnemonic representationsfor recognition
linkages with visceral emotional responses. Our review of
the literature suggests that sensory streams are relatively
separate in the human TP, suggesting that sensory-limbic
binding is not integrated across sensory modality in this
Unfortunately, the paucity of systematic investigations of
this region leaves many questions unanswered. For instance,
we showed that there is a dorsal/ventral segregation of
auditory and visual processing in the anterior temporal
lobe. Is there any anatomical segregation of different types
of emotional responses in this region? Also, a number of
studies have found that ablations of the monkey orbital
frontal cortex, the TP, and the amygdala cause a similar
constellation of socioemotional deficits (Table 1). How do
the roles of these regions differ in regards to social and
emotional processing? There is evidence that the orbital
frontal cortex and TP share many cytoarchitectural and
response characteristics, as well as a close geographic
relationship with neighbouring limbic structures (Kling
and Steklis, 1976). Several findings, point towards a role for
the anterior temporal lobes in emotional stability but more
systematic studies are needed to flesh out its particular
function. Emotion researchers have paid little attention to
this region, with the bulk of interest centred on the nearby
amygdala. We hope that the evidence reviewed here will
spark future investigations of the social and emotional
functions of this region.
We would like to thank the laboratories of Anjan Chatterjee
and Geoff Aguirre for helpful discussion. Funding to pay
the open access charges provided by startup-funds from the
University of Pennsylvania to Ingrid Olson.
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To select the studies used to create Fig. 2A, we prepared a
list of published fMRI and PET studies found through an
electronic search within psycinfo and pubmed databases.
Search terms were: temporal pole, ba 38, anterior temporal
lobe, planum polare, area TG, perirhinal cortex or
paralimbic cortex. Then, we excluded publications that:
(1) were not peer-reviewed, (2) studied special popula-
tions such as elderly or abnormal populations, (3) did not
mention Talairach or MNI coordinates or (4) did not
present material auditorily or visually. Studies that were
included in the final list varied with regard to the type of
stimulus and the type of test. These studies were: Sergent
et al., 1992; Damasio et al., 1996; Imaizumi et al., 1997;
Lane et al., 1997a, b; Gorno-Tempini et al., 1998; Griffiths
et al., 1998; Phillips et al., 1998; Blair et al., 1999; Kimbrell
et al., 1999; Dougherty et al., 1999; Brunet et al., 2000;
Castelli et al., 2000; Dolan et al., 2000; Gallagher et al.,
2000; Leveroni et al., 2000; Nakamura et al., 2000;
Royet et al., 2000; Shin et al., 2000; Beauregard et al.,
2001; Farrow et al., 2001; Gorno-Tempini and Price, 2001;
Vaina et al., 2001; Berthoz et al., 2002; Koelsch et al.,
2002; Lorberbaum et al., 2002; Moll et al., 2002b; Tsukiura
et al., 2002; Eugene et al., 2003; Heekeren et al., 2003;
Levesque et al., 2003; Schultz et al., 2003; Tsukiura et al.,
2003; Warren and Griffiths, 2003; Brown et al., 2004;
Grezes et al., 2004; Ranote et al., 2004; Tyler et al.,
2004; Kim et al., 2005; Moss et al., 2005; Parsons et al., 2005;
Platel, 2005; Pourtois et al., 2005; Rothstein et al., 2005;
Satoh et al., 2006; and Tsukiura et al., 2006.
Studies used to create Fig. 2B were a subset of those used in
Fig. 2A that manipulated emotion or theory of mind. These
studies were: Fletcher et al., 1995; Lane et al., 1997a, b;
Phillips et al., 1998; Blair et al., 1999; Dougherty et al.,
1999; Kimbrell et al., 1999; Brunet et al., 2000; Castelli
et al., 2000; Dolan et al., 2000; Gallagher et al., 2000; Royet
et al., 2000; Shin et al., 2000; Beauregard et al., 2001;
Farrow et al., 2001; Vaina et al., 2001; Vogeley et al., 2001;
Berthoz et al., 2002; Lorberbaum et al., 2002; Moll et al.,
2002a, b; Eugene et al., 2003; Heekeren et al., 2003;
Levesque et al., 2003; Schultz et al., 2003; Tsukiura et al.,
2003; Ranote et al., 2004; Grezes et al., 2004; and Kim et al.,
Page14 of14Brain (2007) I. R.Olson et al.