The role of theory of mind in the relation between victimization and depressive symptoms
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Theory of mind (ToM) is the ability to identify others’ mental states, and use this information to explain or predict others’ behaviours. Typically developing adolescents use this ability with varying degree of efficiency and accuracy to navigate social interactions. The current study explored how individual differences in ToM skills impacts the direct relation between victimization and depressive symptoms, and the indirect relation through perceived social support. Individuals who have difficulty identifying and reasoning about others’ mental states may have more difficulty accurately identifying a perpetrators intentions or beliefs. As such, it was hypothesized that the relation between victimization and depressive symptoms would become stronger as an individual performed better on ToM decoding and reasoning tasks. Previous literature suggests that adolescents who are victimized believe they have less support available to them, which in turn is associated with more depressive symptoms. As such, it was also hypothesized that this relation among victimization, perceived social support and depressive symptoms would be stronger as individuals performed better on ToM decoding and reasoning tasks. Results partially supported both of these hypotheses. The current study provides evidence that performance on a ToM reasoning task – but not decoding tasks – moderates the relation between victimization and depressive symptoms. The results also provide modest evidence that the relation among victimization, perceived social support and depressive symptoms becomes stronger as individuals perform better on the Faux Pas task. The implications for future research and treatment considerations are discussed.