Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Psychological and Brain Sciences

Committee Chair

Mast, Benjamin T.

Author's Keywords

Theory of mind; Social functioning; Awareness; Insight; Social cognition; Aging


Older people--Mental health; Philosophy of mind; Cognitive science--Health aspects


Declines in social resources and in the quality of interpersonal interactions have been observed in some older adults. Unawareness of ability is a clinical problem that has been found in some older adults with dementia, but has also been found in non-demented older adults, and the clinical correlates have not been reliably established. Theory of mind (ToM) is a social-cognitive construct that refers to the ability to infer the mental states of others and the self. ToM has been linked with social functioning and self-awareness, but few studies have examined these variables in older adults. The current study tested the hypotheses that lower levels of ToM ability would predict lower levels of social functioning and higher levels of unawareness of ability. Seventy-eight community dwelling older adults and their informants participated. Participants completed multiple measures of ToM, memory, executive functioning, social resources, social behaviors, and awareness of ability on different tasks. Correlations, t tests, chi-square and path analysis were used to test the hypotheses. Study results indicated the presence of impaired performance on ToM measures in the community-dwelling sample, but relatively accurate awareness and strong social functioning across measures. Despite the presence of impaired performance on ToM, ToM did not predict any of the social relations variables. The results of the ToM and awareness analyses were mixed, with one association that approached significance in the predicted direction and other significant associations that were in the opposite direction. The results suggest that ToM may not be a valid construct for predicting social functioning in community-dwelling older adults. ToM may have been confounded with general cognitive processes, indicating that the demonstrated impairment was not ToM-specific. An underlying neurological process also may have been detected by the ToM tests that has not yet impacted social relations or awareness. Improvement in the measurement of the three constructs, continued research into the correlates of awareness and social relations, and longitudinal study in community-dwelling older adults, will help clarify the relationship, if any, between the three constructs.