A frontotemporoparietal network common to initiating and responding to joint attention bids

Nathan Caruana*, Jon Brock, Alexandra Woolgar

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    57 Citations (Scopus)


    Joint attention is a fundamental cognitive ability that supports daily interpersonal relationships and communication. The Parallel Distributed Processing model (PDPM) postulates that responding to (RJA) and initiating (IJA) joint attention are predominantly supported by posterior-parietal and frontal regions respectively. It also argues that these neural networks integrate during development, supporting the parallel processes of self- and other-attention representation during interactions. However, direct evidence for the PDPM is limited due to a lack of ecologically valid experimental paradigms that can capture both RJA and IJA. Building on existing interactive approaches, we developed a virtual reality paradigm where participants engaged in an online interaction to complete a cooperative task. By including tightly controlled baseline conditions to remove activity associated with non-social task demands, we were able to directly contrast the neural correlates of RJA and IJA to determine whether these processes are supported by common brain regions. Both RJA and IJA activated broad frontotemporoparietal networks. Critically, a conjunction analysis identified that a subset of these regions were common to both RJA and IJA. This right-lateralised network included the dorsal portion of the middle frontal gyrus (MFG), inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), middle temporal gyrus (MTG), precentral gyrus, posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS), temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and precuneus. Additional activation was observed in this network for IJA relative to RJA at MFG, IFG, TPJ and precuneus. This is the first imaging study to directly investigate the neural correlates common to RJA and IJA engagement, and thus support the assumption that a broad integrated network underlies the parallel aspects of both initiating and responding to joint attention.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)34-46
    Number of pages13
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2015


    • joint attention
    • fMRI
    • eye tracking
    • virtual reality
    • social cognition
    • interaction


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