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The medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) of human adults is involved in attributing mental states to real human agents but not to virtual artificial characters. This study examined whether such differential MPFC activity can be observed in children who are more fascinated by cartoons than adults. We measured brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while 10-year-old children watched movie and cartoon clips, simulating real and virtual visual worlds, respectively. We showed neuroimaging evidence that, in contrast to adults, the MPFC of children was activated when perceiving both human agents and artificial characters in coherent visual events. Our findings suggest that, around the age of 10 years, the MPFC activity in children is different from that in adults in that it can be spontaneously activated by non-human agents in a virtual visual world. © 2007 Science in China Press.

Original publication




Journal article


Chinese Science Bulletin

Publication Date





3371 - 3375