Neural correlates of theory of mind in typically-developing youth: Influence of sex, age and callous-unemotional traits

  • Theory of mind (ToM), or the ability to infer and predict the intentions, thoughts and beliefs of others, involves cognitive perspective taking (cognitive ToM/cToM) and understanding emotions (affective ToM/aToM). While behavioral evidence indicates that ToM is influenced by sex and age, no study has examined the influence of these variables on the neural correlates of cToM and aToM in late childhood/adolescence. Using fMRI with 35 typically-developing youths (aged 9–18 years, 12 males), we investigated the influence of sex and age on the neural correlates of cToM and aToM. We also examined how callous-unemotional traits, indexing a lack of empathy, were related to brain responses during aToM. Across both conditions, we found convergent activity in ToM network regions, such as superior temporal sulcus/temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and precuneus across males and females, but males recruited the left TPJ significantly more than females during cToM. During aToM, age was negatively correlated with brain responses in frontal, temporal and posterior midline regions, while callous-unemotional traits were positively correlated with right anterior insula responses. These results provide the first evidence in youth that sex influences the neural correlates of cToM, while age and callous-unemotional traits are specifically related to brain responses during aToM.

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Author:Yidian Gao, Jack C. Rogers, Ruth Pauli, Roberta Clanton, Rosalind Baker, Philippa Birch, Lisandra Ferreira, Abigail Brown, Christine M. FreitagORCiDGND, Graeme Fairchild, Pia Rotshtein, Stéphane A. De Brito
Pubmed Id:
Parent Title (English):Scientific reports
Publisher:Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature
Place of publication:[London]
Document Type:Article
Year of Completion:2019
Date of first Publication:2019/11/07
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2020/05/06
Tag:Cognitive neuroscience; Human behaviour
Issue:1, Art. 16216
Page Number:12
First Page:1
Last Page:12
Open Access: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit
Institutes:Medizin / Medizin
Dewey Decimal Classification:6 Technik, Medizin, angewandte Wissenschaften / 61 Medizin und Gesundheit / 610 Medizin und Gesundheit
Licence (German):License LogoCreative Commons - Namensnennung 4.0