Transcranial magnetic stimulation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex impairs theory of mind learning Academic Article uri icon


  • Imaging and lesion studies indicate that the prefrontal cortex plays a prominent role in mediating theory of mind (ToM) functioning. Particularly, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) appears to be involved in mediating ToM functioning. This study utilized slow repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) over the VMPFC in 13 healthy subjects in order to test whether normal functioning of the VMPFC is necessary for ToM functioning. We found that rTMS to the VMPFC, but not sham-rTMS, significantly disrupted ToM learning. Performance on a control task, not involving affective ToM functioning, was not significantly altered after applying rTMS to the VMPFC or sham-rTMS. In an additional experiment, rTMS to the vertex did not significantly affect ToM learning, confirming specificity of the VMPFC region. These findings indicate that the VMPFC is critical for intact ToM learning and shed further light on the concept and localization of ToM in particular and empathic functioning in general.

publication date

  • January 1, 2012