Development of predictive responses in theory of mind brain regions

Hilary Richardson, Rebecca Saxe

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review


When we watch movies, we consider the characters’ mental states in order to understand and predict the narrative. Recent work in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) uses movie-viewing paradigms to measure functional responses in brain regions recruited for such mental state reasoning (the theory of mind [“ToM”] network). Here, two groups of young children (n = 30 3–4 years old, n = 26 6–7 years old) viewed a short animated movie twice while undergoing fMRI. As children get older, ToM brain regions were recruited earlier in time during the second presentation of the movie. This “narrative anticipation” effect is specific: there was no such effect in a control network of brain regions that responds just as robustly to the movie (the “Pain Matrix”). These results complement prior studies in adults that suggest that ToM brain regions play a role not just in inferring, but in actively predicting, other people's thoughts and feelings, and provide novel evidence that as children get older, their ToM brain regions increasingly make such predictions. © 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12863
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number1
Early online date18 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2019


  • anticipatory responses
  • cognitive development
  • fMRI
  • predictive coding
  • theory of mind
  • brain mapping


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