Neural mechanisms underlying valence inferences to sound: The role of the right angular gyrus.


We frequently infer others' intentions based on non-verbal auditory cues. Although the brain underpinnings of social cognition have been extensively studied, no empirical work has yet examined the impact of musical structure manipulation on the neural processing of emotional valence during mental state inferences. We used a novel sound-based theory-of-mind paradigm in which participants categorized stimuli of different sensory dissonance level in terms of positive/negative valence. Whilst consistent with previous studies which propose facilitated encoding of consonances, our results demonstrated that distinct levels of consonance/dissonance elicited differential influences on the right angular gyrus, an area implicated in mental state attribution and attention reorienting processes. Functional and effective connectivity analyses further showed that consonances modulated a specific inhibitory interaction from associative memory to mental state attribution substrates. Following evidence suggesting that individuals with autism may process social affective cues differently, we assessed the relationship between participants' task performance and self-reported autistic traits in clinically typical adults. Higher scores on the social cognition scales of the AQ were associated with deficits in recognising positive valence in consonant sound cues. These findings are discussed with respect to Bayesian perspectives on autistic perception, which highlight a functional failure to optimize precision in relation to prior beliefs.