Does Healthy Adult Aging and The Ecological Validity of the Tasks Used Affect Theory of Mind Performance?
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Abstract The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effect of healthy adult aging on theory of mind (ToM) abilities using a more ecologically valid ToM task and comparing performance on this task to performance on less ecologically valid ToM tasks. Past results using traditional stories or static pictures have often been contradictory with some studies finding declines in ToM abilities with age, some finding that ToM remains intact and one study even found improvements in ToM. Twenty younger adults and eighteen older adults were tested on parts two and three of The Awareness of Social Inference Test (TASIT; a video task) to assess their ToM. Participants were also tested on a stories ToM task (a transcribed version of the TASIT) as well as on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test revised (RMET). It was hypothesized that all adults would perform significantly better on the more ecologically valid TASIT video test in comparison to the TASIT stories (since the extra contextual and paralinguistic cues of the TASIT video may help participants); although an age effect would still be found. It was found that overall older adults performed significantly more poorly than younger adults on the ToM tasks while both groups performed the TASIT video task significantly better than the TASIT stories task. Therefore, an age-related impairment was found for ToM and the TASIT video may be a more accurate way of assessing ToM abilities. Participants may have performed better on this task since it resembles real-life social situations.