Abstract

Successful negotiation of human social interactions rests on having a theory of mind—an understanding of how others' behaviors can be understood in terms of internal mental states, such as beliefs, desires, intentions, and emotions. A core theory-of-mind skill is the ability to decode others' mental states on the basis of observable information, such as facial expressions. Although several recent studies have focused on the neural correlates of reasoning about mental states, no research has addressed the question of what neural systems underlie mental state decoding. We used dense-array eventrelated potentials (ERP) to show that decoding mental states from pictures of eyes is associated with an N270–400 component over inferior frontal and anterior temporal regions of the right hemisphere. Source estimation procedures suggest that orbitofrontal and medial temporal regions may underlie this ERP effect. These findings suggest that different components of everyday theory-of-mind skills may rely on dissociable neural mechanisms.

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