The Role of Executive Functions and Dual-Tasking in the Decline of Socio-Behavioural Functioning in Healthy Ageing
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Background Research offers support for the decline of socio-behavioural functioning in healthy ageing (Duval, Piolino, Bejanin & Eustache, 2011). Further, evidence has found that this decline is somewhat mediated by the decline in executive functioning (Rakoczy, Harder-Kasten & Sturm, 2012). Recent research has also suggested the involvement of a coordinating component (dual-tasking) that may be involved in higher-order ToM tasks, such as the attribution of multiple mental state representations (Duval et al, 2011; Foley, Cantagallo, Della Sala, & Logie, 2010). Objectives and Design In order to provide further insight into the age-related changes in socio-behavioural functioning, with respect to executive functioning and dual-tasking, a between- and within-subjects design was used to investigate age-related changes on a battery of measures, and their subsequent relationships. Results Older adults performed significantly worse on ‘affective’ ToM’, and ‘cognitive’ ToM measures involving sarcasm and lie detection, compared to younger adults; no age-related differences were found for the attribution of sincere mental states. No significant difference was found between younger and older participant groups on dual-tasking performance. Performance on sarcasm and lie detection measures were associated with performance on inhibition and switching EF tasks. No association was found between executive functioning and sincere or ‘affective’ ToM. Conclusions The findings offer support for previous research that has found a decline in socio-behavioural functioning with healthy ageing. The current study suggests evidence towards the Domain-General approach for explaining the age-related decline in inferring ‘complex’ (dishonest) mental states that involve sarcasm and lie detection; whereas the ability to infer sincere mental states is relatively preserved. Further, findings offer insight into the role of dual-tasking, but methodological limitations highlight that further research is required.