The role of medial prefrontal cortex in theory of mind: A deep rTMS study

Background:

Neuroimaging studies suggest that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) plays a central role in cognitive theory of mind (ToM).

Objective:

To assess more definitively, using deeptranscranial magnetic stimulation (dTMS), whether the mPFC plays a central role in ToM.

Method:

Sixteen healthy participants (10 females, 6 males) completed tasks assessing cognitive and affective ToM following low-frequency dTMS to bilateral mPFC in active-stimulation and placebo-stimulation sessions.

Results:

There was no effect of dTMS on either cognitive or affective ToM performance. When examining self-reported empathy, however, there was evidence for a double dissociation: dTMS disrupted affective ToM performance for those with high self-reported empathy, but improved affective ToM performance for those with low self-reported empathy.

Conclusions:

mPFC appears to play a role in affective ToM processing, but this study suggeststhat stimulation outcomes are dependent on baseline empathic abilities.

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