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Brain Activity Dissociates Mentalization from Motivation During an Interpersonal Competitive Game

  • Assaf, Michal1, 2
  • Kahn, Itamar3
  • Pearlson, Godfrey D.1, 2
  • Johnson, Matthew R.1, 4
  • Yeshurun, Yehezkel5
  • Calhoun, Vince D.1, 2, 6, 7
  • Hendler, Talma8
  • 1 Institute of Living, Hartford Hospital, Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center, 200 Retreat Ave., Hartford, CT, 06106, USA , Hartford (United States)
  • 2 Yale University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, New Haven, CT, USA , New Haven (United States)
  • 3 Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA , Cambridge (United States)
  • 4 Yale University, Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program, New Haven, CT, USA , New Haven (United States)
  • 5 Tel Aviv University, School of Computer Science, Tel Aviv, Israel , Tel Aviv (Israel)
  • 6 The Mind Research Network, Albuquerque, NM, USA , Albuquerque (United States)
  • 7 The University of New Mexico, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Albuquerque, NM, USA , Albuquerque (United States)
  • 8 Tel Aviv University, Functional Brain Research Center, Wohl Institute for Advanced Imaging, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv, Israel , Tel Aviv (Israel)
Published Article
Brain Imaging and Behavior
Publication Date
Oct 21, 2008
DOI: 10.1007/s11682-008-9047-y
Springer Nature


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>computer). 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.

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