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Theory of mind’ in the brain. Evidence from a PET scan study of Asperger syndrome

Happé, Francesca1,2; Ehlers, Stefan3; Fletcher, Paul4; Frith, Uta1,2; Johansson, Maria3; Gillberg, Christopher3; Dolan, Ray4; Frackowiak, Richard4; Frith, Chris2,4,5

Clinical Neuroscience and Neuropathology

THE ability to attribute mental states to others (‘theory of mind’) pervades normal social interaction and is impaired in autistic individuals. In a previous positron emission tomography scan study of normal volunteers, performing a ‘theory of mind’ task was associated with activity in left medial prefrontal cortex. We used the same paradigm in five patients with Asperger syndrome, a mild variant of autism with normal intellectual functioning. No task-related activity was found in this region, but normal activity was observed in immediately adjacent areas. This result suggests that a highly circumscribed region of left medial prefrontal cortex is a crucial component of the brain system that underlies the normal understanding of other minds.

1MRC Cognitive Development Unit, 4 Taviton Street, London WC1 0BT

2Psychology Department, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

3Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Goteborg, Sweden

4Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology, Institute of Neurology, 12 Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, UK

5Corresponding Author and Address: Chris Frith, Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology, Institute of Neurology, 12 Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, UK

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: This work was carried out at the MRC Cyclotron Unit, Hammersmith Hospital. We are extremely grateful for the use of these facilities. O.F., R.D., R.F. and C.F. are supported by the Wellcome Trust

Received 23 August 1996; accepted 25 September 1996

© Lippincott-Raven Publishers.