Evaluating the content and the status of a thought: Two declining aspects of theory of mind in ageing
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Theory of mind is the ability to infer the intentions of another person and act upon them appropriately. Older adult’s theory of mind ability is not well understood, and some studies report its decline, whilst others do not. It has, however, recently been suggested that older adults are impaired at theory of mind tasks which require them to inhibit their own perspective, and are unimpaired at tasks which do not require such inhibition. Evidence in the literature, however, suggests this inhibitory ability may represent the more domain general ability to reorient attention. As such, it may be the case that the affective nature of objects in false belief tasks, which can affect such reorienting ability, will affect the ease at which the self-perspective can be inhibited. Therefore older and younger adults undertook a false belief task in which half the trials were a high inhibition condition and half were low inhibition. Furthermore, there were also three emotion conditions, in which objects used in the task were positive, negative or neutral. It was found that older adults were impaired at both high and low inhibition tasks, though they failed both for different reasons. Furthermore, short term memory scores were found to contribute to successful performance in the older adults only. No effects of the object’s emotional valence were found. The implications of these results for knowledge of theory of mind impairment in ageing are discussed.