A Caltech Library Service

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

Spunt, Robert P. and Elison, Jed T. and Dufour, Nicholas and Hurlemann, René and Saxe, Rebecca and Adolphs, Ralph (2015) Amygdala lesions do not compromise the cortical network for false-belief reasoning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112 (15). pp. 4827-4832. ISSN 0027-8424. PMCID PMC4403179.

[img] PDF - Published Version
See Usage Policy.

[img] PDF - Supplemental Material
See Usage Policy.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


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's mental states as distinct from one'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.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription DOIArticle Information CentralArticle
Adolphs, Ralph0000-0002-8053-9692
Additional Information:© 2015 National Academy of Sciences. Edited by Joseph E. LeDoux, New York University, New York, NY, and approved February 27, 2015 (received for review December 2, 2014). We thank Mike Tyszka, the California Institute of Technology Brain Imaging Center, and the Martinos Imaging Center at MIT for help with the neuroimaging. Funding support was supplied by the Della Martin Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health, the Packard Foundation, and the Simons Foundation. Author contributions: R.P.S., J.T.E., and R.A. designed research; R.P.S., J.T.E., and R.H. performed research; R.H. and R.S. contributed new reagents/analytic tools; R.P.S. and N.D. analyzed data; and R.P.S., J.T.E., and R.A. wrote the paper. The authors declare no conflict of interest. This article is a PNAS Direct Submission. This article contains supporting information online at
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Della Martin FoundationUNSPECIFIED
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)UNSPECIFIED
David and Lucile Packard FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Simons FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:theory-of-mind; amygdala; lesions; false-belief; fMRI
Issue or Number:15
PubMed Central ID:PMC4403179
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20150331-115932436
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Robert P. Spunt, Jed T. Elison, Nicholas Dufour, René Hurlemann, Rebecca Saxe, and Ralph Adolphs Amygdala lesions do not compromise the cortical network for false-belief reasoning PNAS 2015 112 (15) 4827-4832; published ahead of print March 30, 2015, doi:10.1073/pnas.1422679112
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:56245
Deposited By: George Porter
Deposited On:31 Mar 2015 20:26
Last Modified:06 May 2020 22:31

Repository Staff Only: item control page