Theory of mind in schizophrenia: Exploring neural mechanisms of belief attribution

Junghee Lee, Javier Quintana, Poorang Nori, Michael F. Green

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Background: Although previous behavioral studies have shown that schizophrenia patients have impaired theory of mind (ToM), the neural mechanisms associated with this impairment are poorly understood. This study aimed to identify the neural mechanisms of ToM in schizophrenia, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with a belief attribution task. Methods: In the scanner, 12 schizophrenia patients and 13 healthy control subjects performed the belief attribution task with three conditions: a false belief condition, a false photograph condition, and a simple reading condition. Results: For the false belief versus simple reading conditions, schizophrenia patients showed reduced neural activation in areas including the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) compared with controls. Further, during the false belief versus false photograph conditions, we observed increased activations in the TPJ and the MPFC in healthy controls, but not in schizophrenia patients. For the false photograph versus simple reading condition, both groups showed comparable neural activations. Conclusions: Schizophrenia patients showed reduced task-related activation in the TPJ and the MPFC during the false belief condition compared with controls, but not for the false photograph condition. This pattern suggests that reduced activation in these regions is associated with, and specific to, impaired ToM in schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)569-581
Number of pages13
JournalSocial Neuroscience
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - Oct 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Belief attribution
  • Schizophrenia
  • Social cognition
  • Theory of mind
  • fMRI


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