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Perspective-taking and social inferences in adolescents, young adults and older adults

de Lillo, Martina, Ferguson, Heather J. (2023) Perspective-taking and social inferences in adolescents, young adults and older adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, . ISSN 0096-3445. (doi:10.1037/xge0001337) (KAR id:97937)

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Taking another person’s perspective provides a means to infer their beliefs and intentions (known as Theory of Mind), is an essential part of social interaction. In this paper we examined how different sub-components of perspective-taking change beyond childhood in a large sample (N=263) of adolescents, young adults and older adults, and tested the degree to which age-related changes in perspective-taking are mediated by executive functions. Participants completed three tasks that assessed, i) the likelihood of making social inferences, ii) judgements about an avatar’s visual and spatial perspective, and iii) their ability to use an avatar’s visual perspective to assign reference in language. Results revealed that while the likelihood of correctly inferring others’ mental states increased linearly between adolescence and older adulthood (likely reflecting accumulating social experience over the lifespan), the ability to judge an avatar’s perspective and use this to assign reference was subject to developmental changes from adolescence to older age, with performance peaking in young adulthood. Correlation and mediation analyses incorporated three measures of executive functioning (inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility) and revealed that executive functions contribute to perspective-taking ability in these tasks (particularly during development), but largely do not mediate the effect of age on perspective-taking. We discuss how these results fit with models of mentalising that predict distinct patterns of social development depending on the maturation of cognitive and language mechanisms.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1037/xge0001337
Uncontrolled keywords: theory of mind; perspective-taking, aging; social development; cognition; adolescence
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Funders: European Research Council (
Depositing User: Heather Ferguson
Date Deposited: 11 Nov 2022 20:38 UTC
Last Modified: 04 Jul 2023 12:42 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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Ferguson, Heather J..

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