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Does the way we read others' mind change over the lifespan? Insights from a massive web poll of cognitive skills from childhood to late adulthood


Klindt, David; Devaine, Marie; Daunizeau, Jean (2017). Does the way we read others' mind change over the lifespan? Insights from a massive web poll of cognitive skills from childhood to late adulthood. Cortex, 86:205-215.

Abstract

Mentalizing or Theory of Mind (ToM), i.e., the ability to recognize what people think or feel, is a crucial component of human social intelligence. It has been recently proposed that ToM can be decomposed into automatic and controlled neurocognitive components, where only the latter engage executive functions (e.g., working memory, inhibitory control and task switching). Critical here is the notion that such dual processes are expected to follow different developmental dynamics. In this work, we provide novel experimental evidence for this notion. We report data gathered from about thirty thousand participants of a massive web poll of people's cognitive skills, which included ToM and executive functions. We show that although the maturation of executive functions occurs in synchrony (around 20 years of age), this is not the case for different mentalizing competences, which either mature before (for elementary ToM constituents) or after (for higher-level ToM). In addition, we show that inter-individual differences in executive functions predict variability in higher-level ToM skills from the onset of adulthood onwards, i.e., after the complete maturation of executive functions. Taken together, these results indicate that the relative contribution of ToM's controlled component significantly changes with age. In particular, this implies that, over the lifespan, people may rely upon distinct cognitive architectures when reading others' minds.

Abstract

Mentalizing or Theory of Mind (ToM), i.e., the ability to recognize what people think or feel, is a crucial component of human social intelligence. It has been recently proposed that ToM can be decomposed into automatic and controlled neurocognitive components, where only the latter engage executive functions (e.g., working memory, inhibitory control and task switching). Critical here is the notion that such dual processes are expected to follow different developmental dynamics. In this work, we provide novel experimental evidence for this notion. We report data gathered from about thirty thousand participants of a massive web poll of people's cognitive skills, which included ToM and executive functions. We show that although the maturation of executive functions occurs in synchrony (around 20 years of age), this is not the case for different mentalizing competences, which either mature before (for elementary ToM constituents) or after (for higher-level ToM). In addition, we show that inter-individual differences in executive functions predict variability in higher-level ToM skills from the onset of adulthood onwards, i.e., after the complete maturation of executive functions. Taken together, these results indicate that the relative contribution of ToM's controlled component significantly changes with age. In particular, this implies that, over the lifespan, people may rely upon distinct cognitive architectures when reading others' minds.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Biomedical Engineering
Dewey Decimal Classification:170 Ethics
610 Medicine & health
Uncontrolled Keywords:Experimental and Cognitive Psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience, Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
Language:English
Date:2017
Deposited On:26 Feb 2018 13:19
Last Modified:19 Aug 2018 10:08
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0010-9452
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2016.09.009

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