Functional organization of the temporal–parietal junction for theory of mind in preverbal infants: A near-infrared spectroscopy study

Daniel C. Hyde, Charline E. Simon, Fransisca Ting, Julia I. Nikolaeva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Successful human social life requires imagining what others believe or think to understand and predict behavior. This ability, often referred to as theory of mind (ToM), reliably engages a specialized network of temporal and prefrontal brain regions in older children and adults, including selective recruitment of the temporal–parietal junction(TPJ). Todate, how and when this specialized brain organization for ToM arises is unknown due to limitations in functional neuroimaging at younger ages. Here, we used the emerging technique of functional near-infrared spectroscopy to measure the functional brain response across parietal, temporal, and prefrontal regions in 7-month-old male and female infants as they viewed different video scenarios of a person searching for a hidden object. Over different conditions, we manipulated whether the person held an accurate (true) or inaccurate (false) belief about the location of the hidden object in the videos. In two separate experiments, we observed that activity from the TPJ, but not other temporal and prefrontal regions, spontaneously tracked with the beliefs of the other person, responding more during scenarios when the other person’s belief regarding the location of the object was false compared with scenarios when her belief was true. These results mirror those obtained with adults to show that the TPJ already shows some functional organization relevant to high-level social cognition by around 7 months of age. Furthermore, these results suggest that infants may draw on similar core mechanisms to implicitly track beliefs, as adults do when reasoning explicitly about them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4264-4274
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number18
StatePublished - May 2 2018


  • Infant
  • Near-infrared spectroscopy
  • Temporal lobe
  • Temporal parietal junction
  • Theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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