Amygdala lesions do not compromise the cortical network for false-belief reasoning

Robert P. Spunt, Jed T. Elison, Nicholas Dufour, René Hurlemann, Rebecca Saxe, Ralph Adolphs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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The amygdala plays an integral role in human social cognition and behavior, with clear links to emotion recognition, trust judgments, anthropomorphization, and psychiatric disorders ranging from social phobia to autism. A central feature of human social cognition is a theory-of-mind (ToM) that enables the representation other people'smental states as distinct fromone's own. Numerous neuroimaging studies of the best studied use of ToM - false-belief reasoning - suggest that it relies on a specific cortical network; moreover, the amygdala is structurally and functionally connected with many components of this cortical network. It remains unknown whether the cortical implementation of any form of ToM depends on amygdala function. Here we investigated this question directly by conducting functional MRI on two patients with rare bilateral amygdala lesions while they performed a neuroimaging protocol standardized for measuring cortical activity associated with false-belief reasoning. We compared patient responses with those of two healthy comparison groups that included 480 adults. Based on both univariate and multivariate comparisons, neither patient showed any evidence of atypical cortical activity or any evidence of atypical behavioral performance; moreover, this pattern of typical cortical and behavioral response was replicated for both patients in a follow-up session. These findings argue that the amygdala is not necessary for the cortical implementation of ToM in adulthood and suggest a reevaluation of the role of the amygdala and its cortical interactions in human social cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4827-4832
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number15
StatePublished - Apr 14 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • Amygdala
  • False-belief
  • Lesions
  • Theory-of-mind
  • fMRI


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