Published on Sat Sep 11 2021

The Ventrolateral Anterior Temporal Lobe is Commonly Engaged by Both Mental State Inference and Semantic Association Tasks

Balgova, E., Diveica, V., Walbrin, J., Binney, R. J.

A key challenge for neurobiological models of social cognition is to elucidate whether brain regions are specialised for that domain. In the present study, we used ATL-optimised fMRI to map the contribution of different ATL structures to a variety of paradigms.

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Abstract

A key challenge for neurobiological models of social cognition is to elucidate whether brain regions are specialised for that domain. In recent years, discussion surrounding the role of the anterior temporal lobe (ATL) epitomises such debates; some argue it is part of a domain-specific network for social processing, while others claim it is a domain-general hub for semantic representation. In the present study, we used ATL-optimised fMRI to map the contribution of different ATL structures to a variety of paradigms frequently used to probe a crucial social ability, namely theory of mind (ToM). Using multiple tasks enables a clearer attribution of activation to ToM as opposed to idiosyncratic features of stimuli. Further, we directly explored whether these same structures are also activated by a non-social task probing semantic representations. We revealed that common to all of the tasks was activation of a key ventrolateral ATL region that is typically invisible to standard fMRI. This constitutes novel evidence in support of the view that the ventrolateral ATL contributes to social cognition via a domain-general role in the retrieval of conceptual knowledge, and against claims of a specialised social function.