Neural evidence that three dimensions organize mental state representation: Rationality, social impact, and valence

Diana I. Tamir, Mark A. Thornton, Juan Manuel Contreras, Jason P. Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

49 Scopus citations

Abstract

How do people understand the minds of others? Existing psychological theories have suggested a number of dimensions that perceivers could use to make sense of others' internal mental states. However, it remains unclear which of these dimensions, if any, the brain spontaneously uses when we think about others. The present study used multivoxel pattern analysis (MVPA) of neuroimaging data to identify the primary organizing principles of social cognition. We derived four unique dimensions of mental state representation from existing psychological theories and used functional magnetic resonance imaging to test whether these dimensions organize the neural encoding of others' mental states. MVPA revealed that three such dimensions could predict neural patterns within the medial prefrontal and parietal cortices, temporoparietal junction, and anterior temporal lobes during social thought: rationality, social impact, and valence. These results suggest that these dimensions serve as organizing principles for our understanding of other people.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)194-199
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume113
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 5 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

Keywords

  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Mentalizing
  • Multivoxel pattern analysis
  • Social cognition
  • Theory of mind

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