Beta-Band EEG Activity and False-Belief Reasoning in Adults

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Payumo, Mark
Theory of Mind , EEG , False Belief , Beta
The ability to reason about other’s beliefs, and in particular their false beliefs, is a fundamental part of having a theory of mind (ToM) – an understanding of the role that mental states (i.e., beliefs, desires, and intentions) play in causing behavior. Reasoning about others’ minds is difficult, particularly when others’ perspectives are different from one’s own, as is the case with false beliefs. One explanation for this phenomenon may be the anchoring-and adjustment theory, which stipulates that our first guess about other’s mental states is “anchored” to our own perspective (that is, we think that they think what we do) and then adjusted, based on what we know about the other person and their contextual circumstances. If this theory is correct, then neurocognitive processes associated with flexible thinking should be implicated when reasoning about others’ false beliefs. To investigate this possibility, the relationship between beta electroencephalographic (EEG) oscillatory activity and belief-reasoning was examined in adults. The suppression of beta EEG activity has been associated with processes such as cognitive flexibility, learning, and dopaminergic functioning; therefore, it may also be involved in the adjustment process. In this study, 39 adult participants were recruited, and EEG recordings were obtained in response to a series of false-belief and true-belief tasks. It was hypothesized that: 1) beta EEG activity will be suppressed more when reasoning about others’ false beliefs relative to their true beliefs, and that 2) beta suppression will be evident at scalp sites that are typically associated with neural regions that are important for ToM reasoning, including the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) and the right temporo-parietal junction (rTPJ). Results showed significant trial effects for beta suppression at the dmPFC, but not the rTPJ. These results demonstrate that beta EEG activity may be used as an index for belief-reasoning and, in turn, may reflect aspects of the neurocognitive factors underlying the anchoring-and-adjustment process.
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