Exploring Theory of Mind Subtypes in Adolescence

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Psaradellis, Elaine
Theory of mind
Theory of mind (ToM) and its subcomponents, such as cognitive (involving reasoning, inference, and logical analysis) and perceptual (perceiving and interpreting behaviour, body language, and facial expressions) ToM, undergo significant development during childhood. There remains a debate in the literature regarding whether each of these ToM subtypes exhibit distinct patterns of age effects. Nevertheless, there remains limited empirical support regarding how these changes unfold beyond childhood as well as the cognitive mechanisms driving them. As such, I hypothesized that ToM subtype would moderate the relationship between age and ToM accuracy in adolescence. Specifically, I anticipate a sharper and positive incline between age and accuracy in cognitive ToM, contrasted with a more stable or flatter association between age and accuracy in perceptual ToM. Although both ToM types have been found to draw upon executive functions (EF) and intelligence, the emphasis and specific use of these abilities may differ based on the nature of the task. As such, I hypothesized that cognitive abilities, such as EF and intelligence, would mediate the relationship between age and ToM accuracy, with cognitive ToM relying on verbal IQ and perceptual ToM relying on EF to a greater degree. The current study did not provide support that age is associated with ToM accuracy differentially as a function of the ToM subtype, so I did not explore EF and intelligence as potential mediators of this null effect. In exploratory analyses, I did find that EF and intelligence, specifically inhibitory control and verbal intelligence, are predictors of ToM accuracy over and above the effect of age, and that these relationships also are not moderated by ToM Type. The implications for future research are discussed.
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