Effects of aging on mindreading ability through the eyes: An fMRI study

Ilaria Castelli, Francesca Baglio, Valeria Blasi, Margherita Alberoni, Andrea Falini, Olga Liverta-Sempio, Raffello Nemni, Antonella Marchetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Theory of Mind - ToM, the capacity to understand one's own and other people's mental states and to refer to them to foresee and explain the behaviour - relies upon a circumscribed neural system: the posterior end of the superior temporal sulcus (pSTS), the adjacent temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), the temporal pole (TP), the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and the adjacent paracingulate cortex.To our knowledge, the neural basis of mentalizing has not yet been studied in a developmental perspective covering old age, so the aim of this work is to compare the neural basis of a specific aspect of ToM, the mindreading ability through the eyes, in healthy young and old subjects.Two groups of healthy adults (young: 25.2 years; old: 65.2 years) were submitted to an fMRI scanning while performing the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test, which requires the attribution of a mental state to the other person focussing only on the eye-gaze. There was no difference in the behavioural performances between young and old and both groups of subjects activated the pSTS and the TP, thus indicating that old people show no impairment of mentalizing circuits. However, a relevant shifting of the neural circuit implied in each group to solve the task emerged. Old subjects showed a more bilateral activation of frontal areas and a stronger involvement of the linguistic components of the mirror neuron system (i.e. area 44), as compared to young. Both young and old participants activated the non-linguistic components of the mirror neuron system, such as area 6. These findings are discussed taking into account the recent literature dealing with cognitive functions during normal aging.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2586-2594
Number of pages9
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2010


  • Adulthood
  • Elderly
  • Neural bases
  • Theory of Mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Medicine(all)


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