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Döhnel, Katrin; Schuwerk, Tobias; Sodian, Beate; Hajak, Göran; Rupprecht, Rainer; Sommer, Monika (2017): An fMRI study on the comparison of different types of false belief reasoning: False belief-based emotion and behavior attribution. In: Social Neuroscience, Vol. 12, No. 6: pp. 730-742
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False belief (FB) reasoning is a key Theory of Mind (ToM) competence. By 4 years of age, children understand that a person's behavior can be based on a FB about reality. Children cannot understand that a person's emotion can also be based on a FB before the age of six. In order to generate hypothesis on basic processes distinguishing these two types of belief reasoning, the present functional magnetic resonance imaging study in adults directly compares functional activity associated with these two FB tasks. Both tasks were associated with activity in the ToM network including the medial prefrontal cortex and the left temporo-parietal junction. Differential activity was observed in the anterior dorsolateral prefrontal cortex for FB-based emotion relative to behavior attribution. Contrary to FB behavior attribution, FB-based emotion attribution requires the processing of two different mental states: a belief and an emotion and their relation to each other. The activity pattern may reflect the differential demands on cognitive processes associated with the two different belief-based attribution processes. These results shed new light on the still ongoing debate about the nature of the developmental lag between the two FB tasks.