Beyond false belief: Theory of mind in young, young-old, and old-old adults

Elena Cavallini, Serena Lecce, Sara Bottiroli, Paola Palladino, Adriano Pagnin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Theory of mind (ToM) refers to humans' ability to recognize the existence of mental states, such as beliefs, emotions, and desires. The literature on ToM in aging and on the relationship between ToM and other cognitive functions, like executive functions, is not homogenous. The aim of the present study was to explore the course of ToM and to investigate the role of working memory, inhibition, and language on the possible age differences in ToM. To address these issues, we examined ToM using the Strange Stories task and executive function task in three age groups. Results showed that young adults outperform both old groups on the ToM stories. This difference remains significant also when controlling for working memory and inhibitory control. Our findings suggest a specific impairment in inferring mental states starting from 60 years of age that seems to be independent of changes in executive functions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-198
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Aging and Human Development
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Ageing
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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