We asked participants to predict which of two colors a similar other (student) and a dissimilar other (retiree) likes better. We manipulated if color-pairs were two hues from the same color-category (e.g. green) or two conceptually different colors (e.g. green versus blue). In the former case, the mental state that has to be represented (i.e., the percept of two different hues of green) is predominantly non-conceptual or phenomenal in nature, which should promote mental simulation as a strategy for mentalizing. In the latter case, the mental state (i.e. the percept of green versus blue) can be captured in thought by concepts, which facilitates the use of theories for mentalizing. In line with the self-projection hypothesis, we found that cortical midline areas including vmPFC/orbitofrontal cortex and precuneus were preferentially activated for mentalizing about a similar other. However, activation was not affected by the nature of the color-difference, suggesting that self-projection subsumes simulation-like processes but is not limited to them. This indicates that self-projection is a universal strategy applied in different contexts-irrespective of the availability of theories for mentalizing. Along with midline activations linked to self-projection, we also observed activation in right lateral frontal and dorsal parietal areas showing a theory-like pattern. Taken together, this shows that mentalizing does not operate based on simulation or theory, but that both strategies are used concurrently to predict the choices of others.
- MEDIAL PREFRONTAL CORTEX
- SOCIAL COGNITION