Thinking about actions: The neural substrates of person knowledge

M F Mason, J F Banfield, Neil Macrae

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Despite an extensive literature on the neural substrates of semantic knowledge, how person-related information is represented in the brain has yet to be elucidated. Accordingly, in the present study we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the neural correlates of person knowledge. Focusing on the neural substrates of action knowledge, participants reported whether or not a common set of behaviors could be performed by people or dogs. While dogs and people are capable of performing many of the same actions (e.g. run, sit, bite), we surmised that the representation of this knowledge would be associated with distinct patterns of neural activity. Specifically, person judgments were expected to activate cortical areas associated with theory of mind (ToM) reasoning. The results supported this prediction. Whereas action-related judgments about dogs were associated with activity in various regions, including the occipital and parahippocampal gyri; identical judgments about people yielded activity in areas of prefrontal cortex, notably the right middle and medial frontal gyri. These findings suggest that person knowledge may be functionally dissociable from comparable information about other animals, with action-related judgments about people recruiting neural activity that is indicative of ToM reasoning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-214
Number of pages6
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2004


  • action knowledge
  • fMRI
  • mentalizing
  • social cognition
  • theory of mind
  • prefrontal cortex
  • face perception
  • temporal cortex
  • brain function
  • default mode
  • mind
  • FMRI
  • PET
  • systems
  • activation


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