Are cognitive representations of friends' request refusals implemented in the orbitofrontal and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices? A cognitive neuroscience approach to 'theory of mind' in relationships

Alan D. Heisel, Michael J. Beatty

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

10 Scopus citations


Formulating cognitive representations of others' mental states when interpreting behavior (i.e., 'theory of mind') rather than merely focusing on the behavior is considered a distinctly human trait which both interpersonal scholars and cognitive neuroscientists agree plays a critical role in the development and maintenance of social relationships. Although brain-imaging studies have led to huge advances in the understanding of memory and language, theories of social relationships remain relatively uninformed by cognitive neuroscience. In the present study, hypotheses regarding the implementation of theory of mind in a relationship context are (a) derived from extant theory and research, and (b) tested via brain-imaging technology. Specifically, spectrum analyses were conducted using brain wave recordings collected by an electroencephalograph (EEG) monitoring oscillations in the gamma range for the orbitofrontal and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices while participants attempted to construct cognitive representations regarding a friend's request refusal. Results indicated statistically greater electrical activity in both cortical regions for participants engaged in the task than for participants in the control condition. The implications of the findings for building a fully elaborated sequential process model of cognitive representations in interpersonal contexts, among other theoretical endeavors, are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-265
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2006



  • EEG
  • Electroencephalogram
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Request refusals
  • Theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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