What is your boss thinking as he listens to your report with his fingers drumming on the table? Most of us make that calculation automatically, but patients with damage to a particular brain area find it impossible to interpret the thoughts and beliefs of others based on their actions, reports a paper in the May issue of Nature Neuroscience.
The ability to figure out when someone is lying or joking, or to guess what they believe, is known to involve the brain's frontal cortex, which handles a variety of complex functions. The new study reports similar problems in three stroke patients who suffered specific brain damage in an area behind the ear called the 'temporoparietal junction'.
Dana Samson and colleagues tested the patients' ability to keep track of the thinking of characters in stories or videos. They failed miserably, while doing well in other tests of cognitive ability. This brain area was known to be involved in processing low-level social cues, such as gaze direction, but the new paper provides the first clear evidence that it is also important for the high-level social reasoning required for inferring other people's beliefs and thoughts.
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