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


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.


Theory of mind Reward Medial prefrontal cortex Temporoparietal junction Temporal pole 



The authors would like to thank Drs. Kristen McKiernan Miller, Michael Stevens and Brian Knutson for their helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. This work was partially supported by a Hartford Hospital grant (PI: M. Assaf).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michal Assaf
    • 1
    • 2
  • Itamar Kahn
    • 3
  • Godfrey D. Pearlson
    • 1
    • 2
  • Matthew R. Johnson
    • 1
    • 4
  • Yehezkel Yeshurun
    • 5
  • Vince D. Calhoun
    • 1
    • 2
    • 7
    • 8
  • Talma Hendler
    • 6
  1. 1.Olin Neuropsychiatry Research CenterInstitute of Living, Hartford HospitalHartfordUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryYale University School of MedicineNew HavenUSA
  3. 3.Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Harvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  4. 4.Interdepartmental Neuroscience ProgramYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  5. 5.School of Computer ScienceTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael
  6. 6.Functional Brain Research Center, Wohl Institute for Advanced Imaging, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and Sackler Faculty of MedicineTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael
  7. 7.The Mind Research NetworkAlbuquerqueUSA
  8. 8.Department of Electrical and Computer EngineeringThe University of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA

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