The neural basis of Affective Theory of Mind in health and mental disorders

[Speaker] Schnell, Knut:1
[Co-author] Hentze, Charlotte:1, Schramm, Elisabeth:3, Walter, Henrik:2
1:Department of General Psychiatry, Heidelberg University Hospital, Heidelberg, Germany (Germany), 2:Division of Mind and Brain Research, Charite University Medicine, Berlin, Germany (Germany), 3:Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Hospital of Freiburg, Germany (Germany)

Affective Theory of Mind (ToM) constitutes a crucial subdomain of the human ability to infer on the mental content of others.
We developed a false believe task to explore affective ToM with functional magnetic resonance imaging in healthy subjects and mental disorders. The experiment examined the neural effects of third versus first person perspective and emotional versus visuospatial focus of cognition.
In healthy subjects Affective ToM mainly involved activation of temporal and frontal brain regions. Amygdala activation patterns suggested that Affective ToM is based on emotional state simulation. Further studies provided evidence that Affective ToM network dysfunctions are associated with genetic risks for schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. In unipolar depression activation of temporal areas during affective ToM was initially increased and subsequently normalized by psychotherapy.
Our findings suggest that the function of the brain's Affective ToM network provides important insights into social cognition in healthy subjects and mental disorders.
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