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The decline of theory of mind in old age is (partly) mediated by developmental changes in domain-general abilities


Hannes Rakoczy, Institute of Psychology, University of Göttingen, Waldweg 26, D-37073 Göttingen, Germany (e-mail:


Following up on existing, mixed findings in the literature on social cognition in old age different aspects of theory of mind were investigated in younger and older adults. In line with some previous findings, older participants – though matched with the younger ones on crystallized abilities- performed significantly worse both on tasks requiring the ascription of complex intentional attitudes to story protagonists and on tasks of recognizing subtle emotional expressions from video displays. Control analyses showed, however, that these deficits are partly explained by domain-general declines in processing speed and executive function. The implications of these findings for the nature of social cognition and its fate in old age are discussed.