Social Cognitive Abilities Predict Unique Aspects of Older Adults' Personal Social Networks

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2022 Jan 12;77(1):18-28. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbab048.


Objectives: The current study explores whether personal social network characteristics are associated with older adults' memory and/or social cognitive function (e.g., ability to infer other's mental states-theory of mind).

Method: 120 older adults completed a social network interview, a memory measure, and 2 core measures of social cognitive functions: emotion recognition and theory of mind.

Results: Variation in memory and social cognitive abilities predicted distinct aspects of older adults' social networks. Having better memory predicted having larger, less-dense social networks, but better theory of mind was associated with having at least one acquaintance in the network, and having more heterogeneous social relationships within the network.

Discussion: Together our findings suggest that disparate social cognitive abilities may serve unique functions, facilitating maintenance of beneficial social connections.

Keywords: Older adults; Social cognitive function; Social networks; Theory of mind.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Cognition*
  • Social Interaction*
  • Social Networking*
  • Theory of Mind / physiology*