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Understanding the intentions behind man-made products elicits neural activity in areas dedicated to mental state attribution


Steinbeis, Nikolaus; Koelsch, Stefan (2009). Understanding the intentions behind man-made products elicits neural activity in areas dedicated to mental state attribution. Cerebral Cortex, 19(3):619-623.

Abstract

Trying to understand others is the most pervasive aspect of successful social interaction. To date there is no evidence on whether human products, which signal the workings of a mind in the absence of an explicit agent, also reliably engage neural structures typically associated with mental state attribution. By means of functional magnetic resonance imaging the present study shows that when subjects believe they are listening to a piece of music that was written by a composer (i.e., human product) as opposed to generated by a computer (i.e., nonhuman product), activations in the cortical network typically reported for mental state attribution (anterior medial frontal cortex [aMFC]), superior temporal sulcus, and temporal poles) were observed. The activation in the aMFC correlated highly with the extent to which subjects had engaged in attributing the expression of intentions to the composed pieces, as indicated in a postimaging questionnaire. We interpret these findings as indicative of automatic mechanisms, which reflect mental state attribution in the face of any stimulus that potentially signals the working of another mind and conclude that even in the absence of a socially salient stimulus, our environment is still populated by the indirect social signals inherent to human artifacts.

Abstract

Trying to understand others is the most pervasive aspect of successful social interaction. To date there is no evidence on whether human products, which signal the workings of a mind in the absence of an explicit agent, also reliably engage neural structures typically associated with mental state attribution. By means of functional magnetic resonance imaging the present study shows that when subjects believe they are listening to a piece of music that was written by a composer (i.e., human product) as opposed to generated by a computer (i.e., nonhuman product), activations in the cortical network typically reported for mental state attribution (anterior medial frontal cortex [aMFC]), superior temporal sulcus, and temporal poles) were observed. The activation in the aMFC correlated highly with the extent to which subjects had engaged in attributing the expression of intentions to the composed pieces, as indicated in a postimaging questionnaire. We interpret these findings as indicative of automatic mechanisms, which reflect mental state attribution in the face of any stimulus that potentially signals the working of another mind and conclude that even in the absence of a socially salient stimulus, our environment is still populated by the indirect social signals inherent to human artifacts.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
Dewey Decimal Classification:330 Economics
Language:English
Date:March 2009
Deposited On:19 Mar 2009 08:35
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 13:09
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN:1047-3211
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhn110
PubMed ID:18603608

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