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The neural basis of belief-attribution across the lifespan: False-belief reasoning and the N400 effect

Bradford, Elisabeth E.F., Brunsdon, Victoria E.A., Ferguson, Heather J. (2020) The neural basis of belief-attribution across the lifespan: False-belief reasoning and the N400 effect. Cortex, 126 . pp. 265-280. ISSN 0010-9452. (doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2020.01.016) (KAR id:79728)

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The current study examined how social cognition – specifically, belief-state processing – changes across the lifespan, using a large sample (N = 309) of participants aged 10-86 years. Participants completed an event-related brain potential study in which they listened to stories involving a character who held either a true- or false-belief about the location of an object, and then acted in a manner consistent or inconsistent to this belief-state. Analysis of the N400 revealed that when the character held a true-belief, inconsistent outcomes led to a more negative-going N400 waveform than consistent outcomes. In contrast, when the character held a false-belief, consistent outcomes led to a more negative-going N400 waveform than inconsistent outcomes, indicating that participants interpreted the character’s actions according to their own more complete knowledge of reality. Importantly, this egocentric bias was not modulated by age in an early time window (200-400ms post-stimulus onset), meaning that initial processing is grounded in reality, irrespective of age. However, this egocentric effect was correlated with age in a later time window (400-600ms post-stimulus onset), as older adults continued to consider the story events according to their own knowledge of reality, but younger participants had now switched to accommodate the character’s perspective. In a final 600-1000ms time window, this age modulation was no longer present. Interestingly, results suggested that this extended egocentric processing in older adults was not the result of domain-general cognitive declines, as no significant relationship was found with executive functioning (inhibitory control and working memory).

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1016/j.cortex.2020.01.016
Projects: The cognitive basis of social communication across the lifespan
Uncontrolled keywords: Social Cognition; False Beliefs; Belief-Attribution; Event-Related Brain Potentials; Ageing
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Funders: European Commission (
Depositing User: Heather Ferguson
Date Deposited: 23 Jan 2020 16:23 UTC
Last Modified: 12 Jul 2022 10:41 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Bradford, Elisabeth E.F.:
Brunsdon, Victoria E.A.:
Ferguson, Heather J.:
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