Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society

Theory of mind and executive functions in normal human aging and Parkinson's disease

a1 University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada


Although the majority of research in theory of mind (TOM) has focused on young children or individuals with autism, recent investigations have begun to look at TOM throughout the lifespan and in other neurological and psychiatric populations. Some have suggested that TOM may represent a dissociable, modular brain system that is related to, but separable, from other brain functions including executive functions (EF). Recently, studies have shown that TOM performance can be compromised following an acquired brain insult (e.g, damage to the right hemisphere). However, the relationship of such impaired TOM performance to other brain functions in these cases has not been explored. This study investigated the effects of both normal human aging and Parkinson's disease on TOM. The relationship of TOM performance and EF in these groups was also examined. The results suggested that although TOM performance appeared compromised in the group of individuals with Parkinson's disease, the elderly control participants were relatively unimpaired relative to younger individuals. Significant relationships between several measures of TOM and EF were also found. The implications of these findings, and also the finding that failure on one measure of TOM did not necessarily predict failure on all measures of TOM, are discussed. (JINS, 2000, 6, 781–788.)

(Received September 9 1998)
(Revised November 17 1999)
(Accepted November 17 1999)

Key Words: Theory of mind; Parkinson's disease; Executive function; Social cognition.

c1 Reprint requests to: Jennifer Saltzman, Dept. of Psychology, University of Victoria, P.O. Box 3050, Victoria, BC, V8W 3P5, Canada. E-mail: