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A distortion corrected fMRI investigation of contributions of the semantic network to mental state attributions.

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Abstract

Many neurobiological accounts of the human ability to make mental state attributions (or theory or mind; TOM) posit a central role of the temporoparietal junction (TPJ)1, despite evidence from neuropsychology2 and functional neuroimaging3 that further suggests an important contribution from the anterior temporal lobes (ATL). A parallel set of literature strongly implicates the ATL as a hub region for domain-general processes relating to semantic cognition4, which is defined as the ability to use acquired knowledge to make sense of our environment5. At present, it is unclear to what degree the networks involved in ToM and semantic cognition overlap, particularly in the ATL, and this is at least partly owed to methodological factors that reduce the probability of seeing ATL activations in fMRI studies. These include the use of conventional fMRI sequences that are susceptible to severe signal dropout and distortion in the ATL and the use of low-level baselines that do not adequately control for automatic semantic processing during passive conditions (i.e., fixation)6. In the present study, we used a distortion-corrected dual-echo fMRI technique to combat image artefacts, and carefully-constructed baselines. Prior studies using distortion-corrected fMRI have found ATL activation during tasks that involve socially-relevant stimuli7,8. To our knowledge, this is the first to use this technique to investigate ToM processes. 28 young adults underwent fMRI while performing three established ToM tasks3,9 and a nonverbal semantic judgement task. Preliminary results from planned conjunction and region of interest analyses reveal a high degree of overlap in the semantic and ToM networks, particularly in the ventrolateral ATL. Taken together with the broader literature on semantic cognition5, the results suggest that the ventrolateral ATL underpins a key contribution of conceptual-level knowledge to cognitive inferences made about other people’s thoughts and actions. Keywords: social cognition, semantic cognition, theory of mind, temporal lobes 1Saxe and Kanwisher (2003). Neuroimage, 19, 1835-1842 2Irish, Hodges & Piquet (2014). Brain, 137, 1241-1253 3Ross & Olsen (2010), Neuroimage, 49, 3452-3462. 4Binney, Embleton, Jefferies, Parker & Lambon Ralph (2010), Cerebral Cortex, 20, 2728-2738. 5Lambon Ralph, Jefferies, Patterson & Rogers (2017), Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 1842-55. 6Visser, Embleton, Jefferies, Parker & Lambon Ralph, Neuropsychologia, 48,1689-1696. 7Binney, Hoffman & Lambon Ralph (2016), Cerebral Cortex, 11, 4227-4241. 8Rice, Hoffman, Binney & Lambon Ralph (2019), Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B. Biol. Sci. 373. 9Walbrin, Downing & Koldewyn (2018), Neuropsychologia, 112, 32-39.
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