Dissociating cognitive from affective theory of mind: A TMS study

Elke Kalbe, Marius Schlegel, Alexander T. Sack, Dennis A. Nowak, Manuel Dafotakis, Christopher Bangard, Matthias Brand, Simone Shamay Tsoory, Oezguer A. Onur, Josef Kessler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: " Theory of Mind" (ToM), i.e., the ability to infer other persons' mental states, is a key function of social cognition. It is increasingly recognized to form a multidimensional construct. One differentiation that has been proposed is that between cognitive and affective ToM, whose neural correlates remain to be identified. We aimed to ascertain the possible role of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) for cognitive ToM as opposed to affective ToM processes. Methods: 1. Hz repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) was used to interfere offline with cortical function of the right DLPFC in healthy male subjects who subsequently had to perform a computerized task assessing cognitive and affective ToM. Results: RTMS over the right DLPFC induced a selective effect on cognitive but not affective ToM. More specifically, a significant acceleration of reaction times in cognitive ToM compared to affective ToM and control items was observed in the experimental (right DLPFC) compared to the control (vertex) rTMS stimulation condition. Conclusions: Our findings provide evidence for the functional independence of cognitive from affective ToM. Furthermore, they point to an important role of the right DLPFC within neural networks mediating cognitive ToM. Possible underlying mechanisms of the acceleration of cognitive ToM processing under rTMS are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)769-780
Number of pages12
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2010


  • 5cm rule
  • Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex
  • Theory of Mind
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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