Attributions on the brain: Neuro-imaging dispositional inferences, beyond theory of mind

Lasana T. Harris, Alexander Todorov, Susan T. Fiske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

133 Scopus citations


People need to predict what other people will do, and the other person's perceived disposition is the preferred mode of prediction. People less often use, for example, shared social norms to explain another person's behavior. Social psychology's last half-century of research on attribution theory offers precise, validated paradigms for testing how people think about other people's minds. Neuro-imaging data from one classic attribution paradigm shows the unique priority given to inferring chronic, idiosyncratic dispositions (unique attitudes, individual personality, idiosyncratic intent), compared to other kinds of mental contents. Specifically, sentences describing behavior that is low in consensus across actors, low in distinctiveness across entities, and high in consistency over time (compared with the other 7 low-high combinations) uniquely elicits (a) person attributions and (b) activation in the superior temporal sulcus. Ignoring consensus, both low-distinctiveness, high-consistency combinations (compared to 6 remaining combinations) also activate the MPFC, consistent with decades of behavioral data showing that general social cognition neglects consensus information. Thus, activated areas converge with prior neuro-imaging data on theory of mind and social cognition, but more precisely isolate the exact nature of the inferences that activate these areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)763-769
Number of pages7
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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