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The cognitive bases of mental state reasoning in adults

By Adam Werner Qureshi


An individual differences study with 154 adult participants was used to investigate the relationship between inhibitory control and theory of mind (ToM), using structural equation modelling. The battery of executive function tasks was found to tap two separate inhibitory components, response inhibition and response selection. This went against the literature suggesting one inhibitory factor or two components of response inhibition. The two ToM tasks used were both level-1 perspective taking tasks with similar demands, so were expected to tap the same latent variable. The results showed no correlation, suggesting that the tasks might tap separate components of ToM. These were characterised as a fast, inflexible component and a slower flexible component. The relationships between the response inhibition factor and the two ToM tasks were similar, suggesting that they also had executive requirements in common. Additional dual-task studies suggested that response inhibition was required for resolving conflict resolution between perspectives. Altogether it is argued that the results are more consistent with the existence of two distinct systems for theory of mind, than with one system that makes varying demands on executive function in a task-specific manner. This two-system interpretation provides a parsimonious explanation for findings that infants and primates are able to pass perspective taking tasks and that adults reliably make errors in simple ToM tasks

Topics: BF Psychology
Year: 2009
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