The Effects of Healthy Adult Ageing on Theory of Mind Abilities: An Attempt to Design an Ecologically Valid Measure
Melissa Hoban Dissertation 2014.docx (1.512Mb)
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Within current literature on Theory of Mind (ToM) later in the life-span, there is a reported general decline in ToM abilities with age. This study aimed to determine whether creating a more ecologically valid measure of ToM improves performance for both older and younger adults and whether social change, in norms and behaviour, negatively influences ToM performance in older adults. A dynamic visual ToM measure using examples of faux pas from the soap opera Coronation Street was created, the Smith Hoban Faux Pas Test (SHFT). This was comprised of clips from the 1970s and the 2000-2010 decade to assess social change. Older and younger adults performance on this was compared to their performance on a known ToM test considered to be less ecologically valid, the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test (RMET). Results showed no significant difference in performance between the RMET and the SHFT, lending evidence to suggest improving the ecological validity of a test does not alleviate the age-related decline in ToM abilities. However the possibility this is due to differing demands of the SHFT and the RMET is considered. Although younger adults performed better than older adults on all measures, older adults did perform less poorly when discriminating faux pas from their age-matched decade, the 1970s, compared to the modern day stimuli. More ecologically valid tests should continue to be developed in future research. Furthermore the negative effect of social change on the performance of older adult should be considered in ToM measures as it may be over-exaggerating the decline in ToM abilities seen with age. Increasing the modern-day social knowledge of older adults may help to improve every-day life by alleviating some of the negative impacts decline in ToM can have for social interactions.