Theory of Mind and social relationships in older adults: the role of social motivation

Serena Lecce, Irene Ceccato, Federica Bianco, Alessia Rosi, Sara Bottiroli, Elena Cavallini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVES: Previous research has shown that individual differences in Theory of Mind (ToM) are crucial for people's social relationships. However, very few studies have investigated this issue in ageing. The present study was designed to fill this gap and examine the associations between ToM and social relationships in elderly adults. In doing so, this study considered people's relationships with their relatives and friends, and examined the possible moderating role of social motivation.

METHOD: The study involved 53 healthy older adults (age: M = 67.91; SD = 6.93; range: 60--85 years). All participants were tested collectively during a 2-hr session and completed a demographic questionnaire as well as a battery of tests assessing verbal ability (vocabulary and word fluency), ToM and social relationships. They also answered a social motivation question.

RESULTS: Results showed that individual differences in older people's ToM were overall significantly associated with those in relationships with friends, but not relatives. In addition, the Hayes moderating procedure showed that individual differences in ToM were related to those in friendships only for those people who had a high or medium level of social motivation.

CONCLUSION: These findings underline the importance of motivation in guiding the use of ToM in everyday social interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-258
Number of pages6
JournalAging and Mental Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging
  • Executive Function
  • Family
  • Female
  • Friends
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Language Tests
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation
  • Social Skills
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Theory of Mind
  • Journal Article


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