Gender Specific Social Deficits in the Elderly
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The possibility of age-related declines in social functioning has not been thoroughly explored. This study aimed to determine whether the elderly were impaired on a number of social tasks that are dependent on the frontal lobes, and whether these deficits were consistent with either: Reinforcement and Reversal Theory, Representation of Social Knowledge or Theory of Mind. 40 participants were recruited, 20 forming the young age group and 20 forming the older age group; these were matched for IQ and number of years in education. Participants completed a Reversal Task, the Faux Pas test and a new Social Scenarios task (both the Faux Pas and the Social Scenarios task were broken down into social rules and theory of mind components), as well as executive function measures. An age-related decline was found on all measures despite controlling for co-occurring declines in executive function. However, failure on the reversal task was due to attentional difficulties, rather than social ones – using the wrong feedback source. Post-hoc analysis of the Faux Pas results revealed an age-group by gender by condition interaction – elderly males struggled to detect social rule violations, whilst elderly women were impaired on theory of mind questions (in comparison to their younger counterparts). This is consistent with impairments in the Representation of Social Knowledge and Theory of Mind, respectively. These findings are thought to be indicative of a three-way dissociation between: the detection of social rule violations, theory of mind and reversal learning.