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Thinking about seeing: perceptual sources of knowledge are encoded in the theory of mind brain regions of sighted and blind adults.

ABSTRACT

Blind people's inferences about how other people see provide a window into fundamental questions about the human capacity to think about one another's thoughts. By working with blind individuals, we can ask both what kinds of representations people form about others' minds, and how much these representations depend on the observer having had similar mental states themselves. Thinking about others' mental states depends on a specific group of brain regions, including the right temporo-parietal junction (RTPJ). We investigated the representations of others' mental states in these brain regions, using multivoxel pattern analyses (MVPA). We found that, first, in the RTPJ of sighted adults, the pattern of neural response distinguished the source of the mental state (did the protagonist see or hear something?) but not the valence (did the protagonist feel good or bad?). Second, these neural representations were preserved in congenitally blind adults. These results suggest that the temporo-parietal junction contains explicit, abstract representations of features of others' mental states, including the perceptual source. The persistence of these representations in congenitally blind adults, who have no first-person experience with sight, provides evidence that these representations emerge even in the absence of relevant first-person perceptual experiences.