Executive Functioning and Social Behaviour: How Are They Related and How Does This Change With Age?
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Executive functions, such as inhibition and dual tasking, have repeatedly been linked to social behaviour (e.g. McDonald & Pearce, 1996; Foley, Cantagallo, Della Sala & Logie, 2010); however the exact strength and nature of this relationship is still unknown. Although certain executive functions, such as dual tasking, are maintained at a high-level into old age (e.g. Logie, Cocchini, Della Sala & Baddeley, 2004) others, such as inhibition, have repeatedly been shown to decline with age (e.g. Wecker, Kramer, Wisniewski, Delis & Kaplan, 2000). It has been suggested these changes in executive function ability may mediate some of the social-behavioural changes we see with age (e.g. Henry, von Hippel & Baynes, 2009). This study aimed to investigate the relationship between executive and social functioning and further to this, how changes of executive performance with age may contribute to changing social performance. The study focusses on inhibition and dual-tasking as executive functions and assesses social ability via an emotion recognition test and a social inference test. Performance on a battery of social and executive tests was measured in both a younger (N=48) and older age group (N=48). Younger adults were found to outperform older adults on all social tasks. In accordance with previous research, older adults performed dual-tasking at a level equivalent to younger adults; they did however show decreased inhibition ability. Dual tasking ability was not found to be related to social performance, some evidence however was found for a role of inhibition as a mediator of decreased social ability with age.