The Effects Of Adult Aging And Culture On Theory Of Mind

Min Hooi Yong* (Corresponding Author), Louisa Lawrie, Alexandre Schaefer, Louise H Phillips

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Objectives: Older adults tend to have poorer Theory of Mind (ToM) than their younger counterparts, and this has been shown in both Western and Asian cultures. We examined the role of working memory (WM) in age differences in ToM, and whether this was moderated by education and culture (the United Kingdom vs. Malaysia). Methods: We used 2 ToM tests with differing demands on updating multiple mental states (false belief) and applying social rules to mental state processing (faux pas). We also looked at the role of education, socioeconomic status, and WM. A total of 298 participants from the United Kingdom and Malaysia completed faux pas, false belief, and WM tasks. Results: Age effects on some aspects of ToM were greater in the Malaysian compared to the UK sample. Malaysian older adults were poorer at faux pas detection, aspects of false belief, and WM compared to young adults. In subsequent moderated mediation analyses, we found that, specifically in the Malaysian sample, the mediating effects of WM on the age and ToM relationship occurred at the lowest levels of education. Discussion: This pattern of results may reflect changes in the familiarity and cognitive load of explicit mental state attribution, along with cultural differences in the pace and nature of cognitive aging. Cultural differences in education and WM should be considered when researching age differences in ToM.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)332-340
Number of pages9
JournalJournals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number2
Early online date24 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by Newton Fund Institutional Links grant ID: 331745333, under NewtonUngku Omar Fund partnership to LP. The grant is funded by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT) and delivered by the British Council. For further information, please visit
We would like to thank our participants who took part in this study. We would also like to thank Laura Cowie, Zuzana Suchomelova, Sara Gunnarsson, Dariusz Bogrucki and Ria Heryani Mumfahir for their assistance with task piloting and data collection. This study was not preregistered.

Data Availability Statement

More details on the data is available in OSF at this link


  • Culture
  • theory-of-mind
  • Executive Function
  • Working Memory


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