Age effects on different components of theory of mind

Conscious Cogn. 2011 Sep;20(3):627-42. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2010.10.025. Epub 2010 Dec 15.


The effects of aging on the cognitive and affective dimensions of theory of mind (ToM), and on the latter's links with other cognitive processes, such as information processing speed, executive functions and episodic memory, are still unclear. We therefore investigated these effects in young (n=25), middle-aged (n=20) and older adults (n=25), using separate subjective and objective assessment tasks. Furthermore, a novel composite task probed participants' abilities to infer both cognitive and affective mental states in an interpersonal context. Although age affected the objective ToM tests, results revealed a direct aging effect on the second-order ToM, but an indirect one on the first-order cognitive ToM, mediated mainly by age-related declines in executive functions. This study supports the notion of an age-related distinction between subjective and objective assessments of ToM, and confirms that ToM is a complex mental ability with several characteristics reliant to some extent on executive processes.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Cognition
  • Executive Function
  • Humans
  • Memory
  • Memory, Episodic
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Theory of Mind*
  • Young Adult