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Interfering with the neural activity of mirror-related frontal areas impairs mentalistic inferences


According to recently proposed interactive dual-process theories, mentalizing abilities emerge from the coherent interaction between two physically distinct neural systems: (1) the mirror network, coding for the low-level embodied representations involved in pre-reflective sociocognitive processes and (2) the mentalizing network per se, which codes for higher level representations subtending the reflective attribution of psychological states. However, although the latest studies have shown that the core areas forming these two neurocognitive systems do indeed maintain effective connectivity during mentalizing, it is unclear whether an intact mirror system (and, more specifically, its anterior node, namely the posterior inferior frontal cortex) is a prerequisite for accurate mentalistic inferences. Intraoperative brain mapping via direct electrical stimulation offers a unique opportunity to address this issue. Electrical stimulation of the brain creates a “virtual” lesion, which provides functional information on well-defined parts of the cerebral cortex. In the present study, five patients were mapped in real time while they performed a mentalizing task. We found six responsive sites: four in the lateral part of the right pars opercularis and two in the dorsal part of the right pars triangularis. On the subcortical level, two additional sites were located within the white matter connectivity of the pars opercularis. Taken as a whole, our results suggest that the right inferior frontal cortex and its underlying axonal connectivity have a key role in mentalizing. Specifically, our findings support the hypothesis whereby transient, functional disruption of the mirror network influences higher order mentalistic inferences.

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Guillaume Herbet received a fellowship from the Association pour la Recherche sur le Cancer (Grant Number: DOC20120605069).

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Correspondence to Hugues Duffau.

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Video 1.avi: A sample extract of the intraoperative stimulation procedure. This video shows a sample extract of the cortical mapping procedure in patient FC while she was performing the mentalizing task.

Supplementary material 1 (MP4 18380 kb)

Supplementary material 2 (PDF 249 kb)

Supplementary material 3 (PDF 196 kb)

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Herbet, G., Lafargue, G., Moritz-Gasser, S. et al. Interfering with the neural activity of mirror-related frontal areas impairs mentalistic inferences. Brain Struct Funct 220, 2159–2169 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-014-0777-x

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  • Mentalizing system
  • Mirror system
  • Pars opercularis
  • Brain mapping
  • Direct electrical stimulation
  • Social cognition