Are there theory of mind regions in the brain? A review of the neuroimaging literature

Sarah J. Carrington, Anthony J. Bailey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There have been many functional imaging studies of the brain basis of theory of mind (ToM) skills, but the findings are heterogeneous and implicate anatomical regions as far apart as orbitofrontal cortex and the inferior parietal lobe. The functional imaging studies are reviewed to determine whether the diverse findings are due to methodological factors. The studies are considered according to the paradigm employed (e.g., stories vs. cartoons and explicit vs. implicit ToM instructions), the mental state(s) investigated, and the language demands of the tasks. Methodological variability does not seem to account for the variation in findings, although this conclusion may partly reflect the relatively small number of studies. Alternatively, several distinct brain regions may be activated during ToM reasoning, forming an integrated functional "network." The imaging findings suggest that there are several "core" regions in the network-including parts of the prefrontal cortex and superior temporal sulcus-while several more "peripheral" regions may contribute to ToM reasoning in a manner contingent on relatively minor aspects of the ToM task.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2313-2335
Number of pages23
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2009


  • fMRI
  • medial prefrontal cortex
  • mental states
  • neural network
  • social cognition


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