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  • Addiction, Drugs
  • Information from Lay-Language Summaries is Embargoed Until the Conclusion of the Scientific Presentation

    150—Sensory Disorders: Visual and Auditory

    Sunday, November 10, 2013, 8:00 am - 12:00 noon

    150.08: Thinking about Seeing: Perceptual sources of knowledge are encoded similarly in the theory of mind brain regions of sighted and blind adults

    Location: Halls B-H

    ">*J. KOSTER-HALE1, M. BEDNY3, R. SAXE2;
    1Brain and Cognitive Sci., 2MIT, Cambridge, MA; 3Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, MD

    Abstract Body: Blind people's inferences about how other people see provide a window into fundamental questions about the human capacity to think about one another's thoughts. Does thinking about the mental states of others’ depend on having experienced similar mental states first hand? If mental state inference depends on shared experience, blind people should have different or impoverished representations of others’ visual experience. To test this prediction, we used multivoxel pattern analyses (MVPA) to investigate neural representations of seeing and hearing experiences in brain regions associated with mental state inference, including the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ). We find that, in typical, sighted individuals, we can discriminate spatial patterns associated with a high-level abstract feature of others’ mental states, i.e., knowledge source, in the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ). These results provide novel insights into the explicit content of neural representations of theory of mind. We further find that these representations of other people’s knowledge source are preserved in congenitally blind adults, suggesting that blind individuals represent mental experiences of seeing in a qualitatively similar manner to sighted individuals. The persistence of these representations in congenitally blind adults, who have no first-person experience with sight, provides evidence that these representations are not derived from first-person perceptual experiences.

    Lay Language Summary: Our research indicates that people blind from birth represent subtle distinctions in how sighted people learn about the world, despite their own lack of visual experience.
    Humans think constantly about one another’s thoughts, to communicate, to learn, to cooperate, to compete, and to deceive. How we do these things is largely unknown. Our results suggest we do them in part by representing abstract aspects of others’ experiences, independent of our own previous experience. We find that brain regions involved in thinking about other’s minds encode the source of other people’s knowledge. Moreover, we find that congenitally blind people, who themselves have never seen, represent these distinctions in a qualitatively similar manner to sighted individuals, suggesting that shared experience is not necessary to reason about someone else’s mind. Blind people's inferences about how other people see provide a window into fundamental questions about the capacity to think about one another's thoughts. If successful reasoning about someone else’s mind critically depended on shared experience, blind people should have different or impoverished representations of others’ visual experience.
    To test these predictions, we performed a series of fMRI experiments, asking both blind and sighted participants to listen to stories about other people’s experiences. Critically, in some of these stories, the protagonist learned information by hearing, while in other stories they learned by seeing. We used an analysis technique known as multivoxel pattern analysis (MVPA) to investigate the neural representations of these seeing and hearing experiences in brain regions involved in thinking about other people’s minds.

    We find that in typical, sighted individuals, there are distinct patterns of neural activity associated with different types of knowledge source, in a brain region strongly implicated in reasoning about others’ minds, the temporo­parietal junction (TPJ). Evidence of a neural code of other people’s seeing and hearing experiences provides novel insights into the explicit content of the neural representations of other people’s minds. Brain regions implicated in thinking about minds explicitly represent information about how people learn about the world.
    We further find that these neural representations are preserved in congenitally blind adults, suggesting that blind individuals represent other’s mental experiences of seeing in a qualitatively similar manner to sighted individuals. The persistence of these representations in congenitally blind adults, who have no first­-person experience with sight, provides evidence that being able to think about, and successfully represent someone else’s mind, does not depend on having had shared experiences.

    Information from Lay-Language Summaries is Embargoed Until the Conclusion of the Scientific Presentation

    150—Sensory Disorders: Visual and Auditory

    Sunday, November 10, 2013, 8:00 am - 12:00 noon

    150.08: Thinking about Seeing: Perceptual sources of knowledge are encoded similarly in the theory of mind brain regions of sighted and blind adults

    Location: Halls B-H

    ">*J. KOSTER-HALE1, M. BEDNY3, R. SAXE2;
    1Brain and Cognitive Sci., 2MIT, Cambridge, MA; 3Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, MD

    Abstract Body: Blind people's inferences about how other people see provide a window into fundamental questions about the human capacity to think about one another's thoughts. Does thinking about the mental states of others’ depend on having experienced similar mental states first hand? If mental state inference depends on shared experience, blind people should have different or impoverished representations of others’ visual experience. To test this prediction, we used multivoxel pattern analyses (MVPA) to investigate neural representations of seeing and hearing experiences in brain regions associated with mental state inference, including the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ). We find that, in typical, sighted individuals, we can discriminate spatial patterns associated with a high-level abstract feature of others’ mental states, i.e., knowledge source, in the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ). These results provide novel insights into the explicit content of neural representations of theory of mind. We further find that these representations of other people’s knowledge source are preserved in congenitally blind adults, suggesting that blind individuals represent mental experiences of seeing in a qualitatively similar manner to sighted individuals. The persistence of these representations in congenitally blind adults, who have no first-person experience with sight, provides evidence that these representations are not derived from first-person perceptual experiences.

    Lay Language Summary: Our research indicates that people blind from birth represent subtle distinctions in how sighted people learn about the world, despite their own lack of visual experience.
    Humans think constantly about one another’s thoughts, to communicate, to learn, to cooperate, to compete, and to deceive. How we do these things is largely unknown. Our results suggest we do them in part by representing abstract aspects of others’ experiences, independent of our own previous experience. We find that brain regions involved in thinking about other’s minds encode the source of other people’s knowledge. Moreover, we find that congenitally blind people, who themselves have never seen, represent these distinctions in a qualitatively similar manner to sighted individuals, suggesting that shared experience is not necessary to reason about someone else’s mind. Blind people's inferences about how other people see provide a window into fundamental questions about the capacity to think about one another's thoughts. If successful reasoning about someone else’s mind critically depended on shared experience, blind people should have different or impoverished representations of others’ visual experience.
    To test these predictions, we performed a series of fMRI experiments, asking both blind and sighted participants to listen to stories about other people’s experiences. Critically, in some of these stories, the protagonist learned information by hearing, while in other stories they learned by seeing. We used an analysis technique known as multivoxel pattern analysis (MVPA) to investigate the neural representations of these seeing and hearing experiences in brain regions involved in thinking about other people’s minds.

    We find that in typical, sighted individuals, there are distinct patterns of neural activity associated with different types of knowledge source, in a brain region strongly implicated in reasoning about others’ minds, the temporo­parietal junction (TPJ). Evidence of a neural code of other people’s seeing and hearing experiences provides novel insights into the explicit content of the neural representations of other people’s minds. Brain regions implicated in thinking about minds explicitly represent information about how people learn about the world.
    We further find that these neural representations are preserved in congenitally blind adults, suggesting that blind individuals represent other’s mental experiences of seeing in a qualitatively similar manner to sighted individuals. The persistence of these representations in congenitally blind adults, who have no first­-person experience with sight, provides evidence that being able to think about, and successfully represent someone else’s mind, does not depend on having had shared experiences.