Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Neuroimaging studies have identified the anterior paracingulate cortex (PCC) as the key prefrontal region subserving theory of mind. We adopt an evolutionary perspective hypothesizing that, in response to the pressures of social complexity, a mechanism for manipulating information concerning social interaction has emerged in the anterior PCC. To date, neuroimaging studies have not properly distinguished between intentions of persons involved in social interactions and intentions of an isolated person. In two separate fMRI experiments, we demonstrated that the anterior PCC is not necessarily involved in the understanding of other people's intentions per se, but primarily in the understanding of the intentions of people involved in social interaction. Moreover, this brain region showed activation when a represented intention implies social interaction and therefore had not yet actually occurred. This result suggests that the anterior PCC is also involved in our ability to predict future intentional social interaction, based on an isolated agent's behavior. We conclude that distinct areas of the neural system underlying theory of mind are specialized in processing distinct classes of social stimuli.