Domain-general contributions to social reasoning: theory of mind and deontic reasoning re-explored

Cognition. 2007 Feb;102(2):179-218. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2005.12.011. Epub 2006 Feb 14.


Using older adults and dual-task interference, we examined performance on two social reasoning tasks: theory of mind (ToM) tasks and versions of the deontic selection task involving social contracts and hazardous conditions. In line with performance accounts of social reasoning, evidence from both aging and the dual-task method suggested that domain-general resources contribute to performance of these tasks. Specifically, older adults were impaired relative to younger adults on all types of social reasoning tasks tested; performance varied as a function of the demands these tasks placed on domain-general resources. Moreover, in younger adults, simultaneous performance of a working memory task interfered with younger adults' performance on both types of social reasoning tasks; here too, the magnitude of the interference effect varied with the processing demands of each task. Limits placed on social reasoning by executive functions contribute a great deal to performance, even in old age and in healthy younger adults under conditions of divided attention. The role of potentially non-modular and modular contributions to social reasoning is discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Cognition*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Problem Solving*
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Perception