Abstract of L. Zackheim lecture


L. Zackheim
York University, Canada

Theory of mind (ToM), the ability to ‘read’ other people’s mental
states, is a critical component of social function. It forms the basis of
humans’ ability to cooperate and empathize with others, understand
humour, and appreciate deception. ToM impairment following brain
injury may result in devastating social consequences, but there is
debate about its neural underpinnings. The present research
investigated the relative contributions of the medial prefrontal cortex
(mPFC), temporoparietal junction (TPJ), and temporal poles (TPs) to
ToM. To this end, ToM was examined in 15 adults with focal lesions to
these regions, 15 adults with focal lesions to regions that have not
been strongly implicated in ToM, and 28 healthy controls. A second
part of the study examined ToM in additional cases with combined
lesions to the mPFC and TP/amygdala. Patients underwent
comprehensive neuropsychological and behavioural testing, including
ToM measures that differ on several dimensions, including degree of
affective analysis. Findings offer insight into the necessary role of the
mPFC in affective/immersive ToM, an additional role for the TPs in the
inference of sarcastic/empathic intent, and a domain-specific role of
TPJ in spatial attention and/or representing intention based on action.
These findings have significant implications for understanding,
assessing, and treating ToM impairment with a view to helping
patients lead socially fulfilling lives.

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