Theory of mind across lifespan from ages 16 to 81 years

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Purpose: Impaired theory of mind (ToM) is a neurobehavioral phenotype of epilepsy. Given that the age transitions affect cognitive development and decline, it is important to refine ToM across the lifespan. This study evaluated ToM in healthy subjects, taking into account education, gender, and other functions, aiming to clarify its specificity and relationships to major demographic and cognitive domains. Methods: A hundred and seventy subjects from ages 16 to 81 years (68 men) who received five to 17 years of schooling were evaluated using a Faux Pas Task (FPT) that is solved at the end of childhood and is highly sensitive to brain damage and tests for language, memory, praxis, visual perception, initiative, attention, shifting, and planning. Factor analysis, analysis of variance, and correlation and regression analyses were used to assess the data. Results: The analysis yielded six factors: Beliefs, Delusions, and Facts, which express the understanding of mental states and contextual details; Matching-Learning, Executive, and Working Memory. On this basis, six composite scores (CSs) were computed. Age and schooling showed significant effects on the Matching-Learning, Executive, and Working Memory CSs. The FPT raw scores and CSs were unrelated to age or schooling, while females showed better performance than males. The Beliefs CS and FPT scores were predicted by the Executive, Working Memory, Delusions, and Facts CSs and gender. Conclusions: Theory of mind is a specific cognitive domain independent of age and formal education, but related to gender. Working memory, executive functions, and reality examination support some ToM processes. These findings may provide reference points against which impairment can be assessed. This article is part of the Special Issue “Epilepsy and social cognition across the lifespan”

Original languageEnglish
Article number106349
JournalEpilepsy and Behavior
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • Age
  • Education
  • Executive functions
  • Gender
  • Theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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