Extensive neuroimaging literature suggests that understanding others’ thoughts and emotions engages a wide network encompassing parietal, temporal and medial frontal brain areas. However, the causal role played by these regions in social inferential abilities is still unclear. Moreover very little is known about ToM deficits in brain tumours and whether potential anatomical substrates are comparable to those identified in fMRI literature. This study evaluated the performance of 105 tumour patients, before and immediately after brain surgery, on a cartoon-based non-verbal task evaluating Cognitive (Intention Attribution) and Affective (Emotion Attribution) ToM, as well as a non-social control condition (Causal Inference). Across multiple analyses, we found converging evidence of a double dissociation between patients with right superior parietal damage, selectively impaired in Intention Attribution, and those with right antero-medial temporal lesion, exhibiting deficits only in Emotion attribution. Instead, patients with damage to the frontal cortex were impaired in all kinds of inferential processes, including those from the non-social control conditions. Overall, our data provides novel reliable causal evidence of segregation between different aspects of the ToM network from both the cognitive and also the anatomical point of view.
Download Supplementary Information.