The Effects Of Adult Aging And Culture On Theory Of Mind

Min Hooi Yong* (Corresponding Author), Louisa Lawrie, Alexandre Schaefer, Louise H Phillips

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Older adults tend to have poorer Theory of Mind (ToM) than their younger counterparts, and this has been shown in both Western and Asian cultures. We examined the role of working memory (WM) in age differences in ToM, and whether this was moderated by education and culture (UK versus Malaysia).We used two ToM tests with differing demands on updating multiple mental states (false belief) and applying social rules to mental state processing (faux pas). We also looked at the role of education, socioeconomic status (SES), and WM. A total of 298 participants from UK and Malaysia completed faux pas, false belief, and WM tasks.Age effects on some aspects of ToM were greater in the Malaysian compared to the UK sample. Malaysian older adults were poorer at faux pas detection, aspects of false belief and WM compared to young adults. In subsequent moderated mediation analyses, we found that, specifically in the Malaysian sample, the mediating effects of WM on the age and ToM relationship occurred at the lowest levels of education.This pattern of results may reflect changes in the familiarity and cognitive load of explicit mental state attribution, along with cultural differences in the pace and nature of cognitive aging. Cultural differences in education and working memory should be considered when researching age differences in theory of mind.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbergbab093
JournalJournals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 24 May 2021


  • Culture
  • theory-of-mind
  • Executive Function
  • Working Memory

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