Executive function is necessary for perspective selection, not Level-1 visual perspective calculation: evidence from a dual-task study of adults

Cognition. 2010 Nov;117(2):230-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2010.08.003.


Previous research suggests that perspective-taking and other "theory of mind" processes may be cognitively demanding for adult participants, and may be disrupted by concurrent performance of a secondary task. In the current study, a Level-1 visual perspective task was administered to 32 adults using a dual-task paradigm in which the secondary task tapped executive function. Results suggested that the secondary task did not affect the calculation of perspective, but did affect the selection of the relevant (Self or Other) perspective for a given trial. This is the first direct evidence of a cognitively efficient process for "theory of mind" in adults that operates independently of executive function. The contrast between this and previous findings points to a distinction between simple perspective-taking and the more complex and cognitively demanding abilities more typically examined in studies of "theory of mind". It is suggested that these findings may provide a parsimonious explanation of the success of infants on 'indirect' measures of perspective-taking that do not explicitly require selection of the relevant perspective.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Theory of Mind / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*