Sources of cognitive conflict and their relevance to Theory of Mind proficiency in healthy ageing. A preregistered study.


Age-related decline in Theory of Mind (ToM) may be due to waning executive control, which is necessary for resolving conflict when reasoning about others’ mental states. We assessed how older (OA; n=50) versus younger adults (YA; n=50) were affected by three theoretically relevant sources of conflict within ToM: competing Self-Other perspectives; competing cued locations and outcome knowledge. We examined which best accounted for age-related difficulty with ToM. Our data show unexpected similarity between age groups when representing a belief incongruent with one’s own. Individual differences in attention and motor response speed best explained the degree of conflict experienced through conflicting Self-Other perspectives. However, OAs were disproportionately affected by managing conflict between cued locations. Age and spatial working memory were most relevant for predicting the magnitude of conflict elicited by conflicting cued locations. We suggest that previous studies may have underestimated OA’s ToM proficiency by including unnecessary conflict in ToM tasks.

Publication DOI:
Divisions: College of Health & Life Sciences > School of Psychology
College of Health & Life Sciences > Clinical and Systems Neuroscience
College of Health & Life Sciences
Additional Information: CC BY
Full Text Link:
Related URLs:
PURE Output Type: Article
Published Date: 2021-03-29
Accepted Date: 2021-03-29
Authors: Rahman, Foyzul
Kessler, Klaus (ORCID Profile 0000-0001-7307-9539)
Apperly, Ian
Hansen, Peter
Holland, Carol
Javed, Sabrina
Hartwright, Charlotte (ORCID Profile 0000-0002-1197-7541)



Version: Draft Version

License: Creative Commons Attribution

| Preview

Export / Share Citation


Additional statistics for this record