Does performance on theory of mind tasks decline in old age?
Article first published online: 24 DEC 2010
2002 The British Psychological Society
British Journal of Psychology
Volume 93, Issue 4, pages 465–485, November 2002
How to Cite
Maylor, E. A., Moulson, J. M., Muncer, A.-M. and Taylor, L. A. (2002), Does performance on theory of mind tasks decline in old age?. British Journal of Psychology, 93: 465–485. doi: 10.1348/000712602761381358
- Issue published online: 24 DEC 2010
- Article first published online: 24 DEC 2010
- Received 14 September 2000; revised version received 16 July 2001
- Cited By
In the first reported study of theory of mind (ToM; the ability to attribute mental states) in old age, Happeá, Winner, and Brownell (1998) observed better performance on ToM tasks in older participants (mean age 73 years) than in young participants (mean age 21 years). We present two experiments exploring the generality of this finding. Experiment 1 compared young, young-old, and old-old age groups (mean ages 19, 67, and 81 years, respectively) on their understanding of ToM stories both with and without the need to remember the information, and control studies that did not require the ability to attribute mental states. For ToM stories with a memory load, the young group performed significantly better than both the young-old and old-old groups; without a memory load, the young and young-old groups performed significantly better than the old-old group. In Experiment 2, young and old-old age groups (mean ages 21 and 81 years, respectively) were compared on their understanding of ToM and control stories without the need to remember the information. Again, the young group performed significantly better than the old-old group on ToM stories. There were no significant age differences in performance on the control stories in either experiment. The age deficit on ToM stories remained significant after taking account of measures of vocabulary and processing speed (Experiments 1 and 2), and measures of executive functioning (Experiment 2).