Theory of Mind, pragmatics and the brain

Pragmatics and Cognition 26 (1):5-38 (2019)
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Abstract

Theory of Mind is a neurocognitive system that allows the perceiver to attribute mental states, such as intentions, beliefs, or feelings, to others’ actions. The aim of the present work is to analyse the engagement of the ToM system in communication, in particular, in communicative intention processing. To this aim, we propose an Intention Processing Network with its own principles and mechanisms, that is, a brain network differentially engaged according to the complex intertwining of the context, goal, and action involved. According to our IPN model, a set of brain regions of the ToM system are differentially involved in comprehending different types of intention, such as private or social intentions. We provide independent and convergent evidence on the role of the IPN model in communicative intention processing and we show that the engagement of the IPN does not depend upon the communicative means used, that is, written language, auditory language, or gesture. Evidence deriving from different experimental paradigms, including neuroimaging, lesion, neurodegenerative, and brain stimulation studies are discussed. In our view, this evidence establishes a link between ToM and pragmatics studies and suggests the role of intention processing as a core feature of human communication.

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