Decline in Mentalising Ability with Healthy Aging: Evidence from Mental State Decoding and Reasoning Tasks
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Koegel, LaKrista, M.
The primary aim of this study was to determine whether individuals constituting an older population would display deficits in tasks assessing aspects of ToM compared to younger participants; secondary goals were to evaluate whether older participants would be differentially affected on cognitive versus affective aspects of the tasks and/or differentially affected on mental state decoding versus reasoning tasks, as well as to asses the role that executive functioning has on these social cognition tasks. Assessment of performance on cognitive versus affective ToM was determined by performance on a new eye-gaze task and on the faux pas task. The faux pas task also assessed mental state reasoning ability, while performance on the FEEST constituted mental state decoding ability. Older participants were impaired on all social cognition tasks compared to younger participants (thereby performing worse both on mental state decoding and reasoning tasks), although covarying the Brixton (test of executive function) mediated some of these between-subject effects. No definitive conclusions could be drawn between cognitive and affective mentalising ability. Poor performance on these social cognition tasks by older participants could be indicative of age-related changes in everyday social interactions, which could be the result of neural changes known to occur with healthy aging.