Vollm BA, Taylor AN, Richardson P, Corcoran R, Stirling J, McKie S et al. Neuronal correlates of theory of mind and empathy: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study in a nonverbal task. NeuroImage 29: 90-98

Neuroscience and Psychiatry Unit, University of Manchester, Stopford Building, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PT, UK.
NeuroImage (Impact Factor: 6.36). 02/2006; 29(1):90-8. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2005.07.022
Source: PubMed


Theory of Mind (ToM), the ability to attribute mental states to others, and empathy, the ability to infer emotional experiences, are important processes in social cognition. Brain imaging studies in healthy subjects have described a brain system involving medial prefrontal cortex, superior temporal sulcus and temporal pole in ToM processing. Studies investigating networks associated with empathic responding also suggest involvement of temporal and frontal lobe regions. In this fMRI study, we used a cartoon task derived from Sarfati et al. (1997) [Sarfati, Y., Hardy-Bayle, M.C., Besche, C., Widlocher, D. 1997. Attribution of intentions to others in people with schizophrenia: a non-verbal exploration with comic strips. Schizophrenia Research 25, 199-209.]with both ToM and empathy stimuli in order to allow comparison of brain activations in these two processes. Results of 13 right-handed, healthy, male volunteers were included. Functional images were acquired using a 1.5 T Phillips Gyroscan. Our results confirmed that ToM and empathy stimuli are associated with overlapping but distinct neuronal networks. Common areas of activation included the medial prefrontal cortex, temporoparietal junction and temporal poles. Compared to the empathy condition, ToM stimuli revealed increased activations in lateral orbitofrontal cortex, middle frontal gyrus, cuneus and superior temporal gyrus. Empathy, on the other hand, was associated with enhanced activations of paracingulate, anterior and posterior cingulate and amygdala. We therefore suggest that ToM and empathy both rely on networks associated with making inferences about mental states of others. However, empathic responding requires the additional recruitment of networks involved in emotional processing. These results have implications for our understanding of disorders characterized by impairments of social cognition, such as autism and psychopathy.

Download full-text


Available from: Alexander N W Taylor
  • Source
    • "ressing sadness or happiness , and thus sensitivity to this expression would enable male viewers to better avoid physical altercation . Alternatively , the observed results may be due to differences in inter - vs . intra - sex male expression of empathy , an emotion whose neuronal network has been shown in imaging studies to include the amygdala ( Völlm et al . , 2006 ) . Prior work demonstrating that men are better able to correctly identify the expressions of male faces attributed this result in part to greater activation of the amygdala , specifically with regards to its role in empathy ( Schiffer et al . , 2013 ) . While this may account for the heightened firing rate in this structure in males f"
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Well-documented differences in the psychology and behavior of men and women have spurred extensive exploration of gender's role within the brain, particularly regarding emotional processing. While neuroanatomical studies clearly show differences between the sexes, the functional effects of these differences are less understood. Neuroimaging studies have shown inconsistent locations and magnitudes of gender differences in brain hemodynamic responses to emotion. To better understand the neurophysiology of these gender differences, we analyzed recordings of single neuron activity in the human brain as subjects of both genders viewed emotional expressions. This study included recordings of single-neuron activity of 14 (6 male) epileptic patients in four brain areas: amygdala (236 neurons), hippocampus (n = 270), anterior cingulate cortex (n = 256), and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (n = 174). Neural activity was recorded while participants viewed a series of avatar male faces portraying positive, negative or neutral expressions. Significant gender differences were found in the left amygdala, where 23% (n = 15∕66) of neurons in men were significantly affected by facial emotion, vs. 8% (n = 6∕76) of neurons in women. A Fisher's exact test comparing the two ratios found a highly significant difference between the two (p < 0.01). These results show specific differences between genders at the single-neuron level in the human amygdala. These differences may reflect gender-based distinctions in evolved capacities for emotional processing and also demonstrate the importance of including subject gender as an independent factor in future studies of emotional processing by single neurons in the human amygdala.
    Full-text · Article · Oct 2015 · Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
  • Source
    • "al . , 2010 ) , high - arousal emotional words ( Compton et al . , 2003 ) , and emotional film clips ( Goldin et al . , 2008 ) , as well as the evaluation of one ' s own emotional state ( Terasawa et al . , 2013a ) . Cuneus activation has also been associated with the ability to attribute mental states to others , termed ―theory of mind‖ ( ToM ) ( Vollm et al . , 2006 ) . A recent study reported that adult marijuana users had differences in brain activation compared with controls during a ToM task , including lower activation in the right cuneus ( Roser et al . , 2012 ) . Therefore , an impact of heavy marijuana use during adolescence on the functioning of occipital regions involved in the evaluation"
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: This work investigated the impact of heavy marijuana use during adolescence on emotional functioning, as well as the brain functional mediators of this effect. Participants (n = 40) were recruited from the Michigan Longitudinal Study (MLS). Data on marijuana use were collected prospectively beginning in childhood as part of the MLS. Participants were classified as heavy marijuana users (n = 20) or controls with minimal marijuana use. Two facets of emotional functioning—negative emotionality and resiliency (a self-regulatory mechanism)—were assessed as part of the MLS at three time points: mean age 13.4; mean age 19.6; and mean age 23.1. Functional neuroimaging data during an emotion-arousal word task were collected at mean age 20.2. Negative emotionality decreased and resiliency increased across the three time points in controls but not heavy marijuana users. Compared with controls, heavy marijuana users had less activation to negative words in temporal, prefrontal, and occipital cortices, insula, and amygdala. Activation of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to negative words mediated an association between marijuana group and later negative emotionality. Activation of the cuneus/lingual gyrus mediated an association between marijuana group and later resiliency. Results support growing evidence that heavy marijuana use during adolescence affects later emotional outcomes.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2015 · Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Source
    • "ToM requires an understanding of others' mental perspectives, whereas emotion understanding indexes the ability to recognize and label emotional expressions and appreciate how certain situations give rise to emotional reactions. While empathy additionally requires the ability to recognize how others would feel as a result of their different perspectives (V€ ollm et al., 2006), tasks typically used to assess emotion understanding (e.g., Denham, 1986) include a measure of the children's recognition that others may react differently from them in a particular situation. Poor ToM abilities relate to attention and impulsivity/hyperactivity problems (Fahie & Symons, 2003; Perner, Kain, & Barchfeld, 2002), which in turn are associated with the loss of control and aggression in response to provocation from peers (see Mu~ noz & Frick, 2012; for a review), and perceiving hostile intent in other people's actions even when these actions are ambiguous (Marsee & Frick, 2007). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Problems in understanding other people's mental states may relate to distinct personality traits that are associated with early externalizing behavior. A distinction between theory of mind (ToM) and empathy has proven important in shedding light on the problems in understanding other minds encountered by children high on callous-unemotional (CU) traits and exhibiting impulsivity. The aim of this study was to investigate whether children's early ToM and emotion understanding abilities predicted CU traits and impulsivity at age 10. A further aim was to explore whether the quality of the parent-child relationship very early in the development indirectly or directly predicted the children's CU traits and impulsivity. We examined whether ToM and empathy skills might differentially relate to personality traits associated with externalizing behaviors (i.e., impulsivity and CU traits). We examined these relations over time in a longitudinal cohort of 96 boys and girls using follow-back analyses, incorporating measures of maternal mind-mindedness (appropriate mind-related talk) to examine the possible role of parent-child interaction quality. Appropriate mind-related talk indirectly predicted CU traits (at age 10 years) via its effect on children's emotion understanding. ToM predicted impulsive/irresponsible traits, but ceased to be significant when controlling for externalizing behaviors. The present findings demonstrate that parents who remark appropriately on their infant's mental states may help the child to understand emotions and may mold an empathic understanding of others, thereby preventing CU traits. © 2015 The Authors. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2015 · Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Show more