Neurocognitive determinants of theory of mind across the adult lifespan

Brain Cogn. 2019 Nov:136:103588. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2019.103588. Epub 2019 Aug 13.


Although theory of mind (ToM) has been extensively explored in aging, few studies have used the same tool to simultaneously assess and compare its cognitive and affective components. When we administered the Movie for Assessment of Social Cognition, a dynamic sequence of social scenes, to 60 healthy participants (20-75 years), we observed no different age-related decreases in both cognitive and affective ToM. While each component was associated with cognitive measures (i.e., episodic memory and processing speed were predictive of cognitive ToM, and recognition of facial emotion expressions and inhibition were predictive of affective ToM), mediation analyses showed that these measures only mediated the effect of age on affective ToM. Voxelwise regressions with grey-matter volume showed that the components partly rely on the same neural substrates, reflecting either ToM per se or other cognitive processes elicited by this multi-determinant task. We discuss the specific substrates of each ToM component, emphasising the importance of considering the impact of other aspects of cognition, present in more ecological situations, on ToM functioning.

Keywords: Aging; MASC; Mediation analysis; Structural MRI; Theory of mind.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Facial Recognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Longevity / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Social Perception*
  • Theory of Mind / physiology*
  • Young Adult