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Belief-desire reasoning is a core component of 'Theory of Mind' (ToM), which can be used to explain and predict the behaviour of agents. Neuroimaging studies reliably identify a network of brain regions comprising a 'standard' network for ToM, including temporoparietal junction and medial prefrontal cortex. Whilst considerable experimental evidence suggests that executive control (EC) may support a functioning ToM, co-ordination of neural systems for ToM and EC is poorly understood. We report here use of a novel task in which psychologically relevant ToM parameters (true versus false belief; approach versus avoidance desire) were manipulated orthogonally. The valence of these parameters not only modulated brain activity in the 'standard' ToM network but also in EC regions. Varying the valence of both beliefs and desires recruits anterior cingulate cortex, suggesting a shared inhibitory component associated with negatively valenced mental state concepts. Varying the valence of beliefs additionally draws on ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, reflecting the need to inhibit self perspective. These data provide the first evidence that separate functional and neural systems for EC may be recruited in the service of different aspects of ToM.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





921 - 930


Adolescent, Adult, Brain, Brain Mapping, Culture, Executive Function, Female, Humans, Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted, Inhibition (Psychology), Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Neural Pathways, Theory of Mind, Young Adult