Brain activity dissociates mentalization from motivation during an interpersonal competitive game

Michal Assaf*, Itamar Kahn, Godfrey D. Pearlson, Matthew R. Johnson, Yehezkel Yeshurun, Vince D. Calhoun, Talma Hendler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Studies demonstrating selective brain networks subserving motivation and mentalization (i. e. attributing states of mind to others) during social interactions have not investigated their mutual independence. We report the results of two fMRI studies using a competitive game requiring players to use implicit 'on-line' mentalization simultaneously with motivational processes of gains and losses in playing against a human or a computer opponent. We delineate a network, consisting of bilateral temporoparietal junction, temporal pole (TP), medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and right fusiform gyrus, which is sensitive to the opponent's response (challenging>not challenging the player) and opponent type (human>gcomputer). This network is similar to a known explicit 'off-line' mentalization circuit, suggesting its additional involvement in implicit 'on-line' mentalization, a process more applicable to real-life social interactions. Importantly, only MPFC and TP were selective to mentalization compared to motivation, highlighting their specific operation in attributing states of mind to others during social interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-37
Number of pages14
JournalBrain Imaging and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2009


FundersFunder number
Hartford Hospital


    • Medial prefrontal cortex
    • Reward
    • Temporal pole
    • Temporoparietal junction
    • Theory of mind


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