Teachers recruit mentalizing regions to represent learners’ beliefs

Natalia Vélez, Alicia M. Chen, Taylor Burke, Fiery A. Cushman, Samuel J. Gershman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Teaching enables humans to impart vast stores of culturally specific knowledge and skills. However, little is known about the neural computations that guide teachers’ decisions about what information to communicate. Participants (N = 28) played the role of teachers while being scanned using fMRI; their task was to select examples that would teach learners how to answer abstract multiple-choice questions. Participants’ examples were best described by a model that selects evidence that maximizes the learner’s belief in the correct answer. Consistent with this idea, participants’ predictions about how well learners would do closely tracked the performance of an independent sample of learners (N = 140) who were tested on the examples they had provided. In addition, regions that play specialized roles in processing social information, namely the bilateral temporoparietal junction and middle and dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, tracked learners’ posterior belief in the correct answer. Our results shed light on the computational and neural architectures that support our extraordinary abilities as teachers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2215015120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number22
StatePublished - May 30 2023
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • bayesian modeling
  • fMRI
  • pedagogy
  • social cognition
  • social learning


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