A growing body of research supports the idea that Theory of Mind (ToM) declines during aging process. Recently, some intriguing studies has suggested that motivational factors could play an important role in explaining older adults’ ToM performance (Zhang, Fung, Stanley, Isaacowitz, & Ho, 2013). Specifically, the authors reported that increased motivation positively impacted on older people’s ToM, reducing or even filling the gap between young and older adults. The present dissertation addresses this issue and aims to better understand the role of different types of manipulation in younger vs. older adults’ ToM performance. After the review of the literature, it presents findings from three separate studies in which young and older people’s motivation to perform ToM tasks was experimentally manipulated. Study 1 aimed to replicate and extend Zhang and colleagues’ research. Following the original procedure, motivation -operationalized as personal closeness- was manipulated in an Italian sample of young and older adults and ToM was measured with two tasks varying in complexity. Results did not show the expected positive role of increased motivation on older adults’ ToM performance. Study 2 aimed at investigating the effect of intergenerational knowledge transmission (i.e., generativity need), which is known to be relevant in occidental culture. Young and older Italian people’s ToM was measured with verbal, video and autobiographical tasks. Results showed a mixed pattern of results, with some suggestions of a positive effect of motivation on older adults’ ToM. Finally, Study 3 manipulated motivation as ego-involvement in a New Zealander sample. Notably, cardiovascular reactivity was considered as a physiological indicator of motivation and measured several times through the experiment. Furthermore, emotion recognition ability was measured along with ToM. As in the first study, results showed no relation between motivation and socio-cognitive skills. Finally, in Study 4 took a different perspective and examine older people’s individual differences in social motivation. Results showed that in socially motivated older adults, but not in people with low level of social motivation, ToM was positively associated with quality and quantity of friendships. The finding suggests that ToM is important to social adjustment only when people are interested in having social relations. Globally, in line with the literature, results showed an age-related decline in ToM ability which is task-independent. However the presented results suggested that motivation is not likely to play a major role in older adults’ ToM performance, even if it could lead to minor improvements under certain conditions. Furthermore, a secondary aim of this thesis was to inspect social correlates of ToM abilities in older adults. Findings offered some suggestions of a positive relation between ToM and friendships; moreover, results indicated that social motivation played a role in explaining this association.

ToM performance in normal aging: The role of motivation

CECCATO, IRENE
2017-02-21

Abstract

A growing body of research supports the idea that Theory of Mind (ToM) declines during aging process. Recently, some intriguing studies has suggested that motivational factors could play an important role in explaining older adults’ ToM performance (Zhang, Fung, Stanley, Isaacowitz, & Ho, 2013). Specifically, the authors reported that increased motivation positively impacted on older people’s ToM, reducing or even filling the gap between young and older adults. The present dissertation addresses this issue and aims to better understand the role of different types of manipulation in younger vs. older adults’ ToM performance. After the review of the literature, it presents findings from three separate studies in which young and older people’s motivation to perform ToM tasks was experimentally manipulated. Study 1 aimed to replicate and extend Zhang and colleagues’ research. Following the original procedure, motivation -operationalized as personal closeness- was manipulated in an Italian sample of young and older adults and ToM was measured with two tasks varying in complexity. Results did not show the expected positive role of increased motivation on older adults’ ToM performance. Study 2 aimed at investigating the effect of intergenerational knowledge transmission (i.e., generativity need), which is known to be relevant in occidental culture. Young and older Italian people’s ToM was measured with verbal, video and autobiographical tasks. Results showed a mixed pattern of results, with some suggestions of a positive effect of motivation on older adults’ ToM. Finally, Study 3 manipulated motivation as ego-involvement in a New Zealander sample. Notably, cardiovascular reactivity was considered as a physiological indicator of motivation and measured several times through the experiment. Furthermore, emotion recognition ability was measured along with ToM. As in the first study, results showed no relation between motivation and socio-cognitive skills. Finally, in Study 4 took a different perspective and examine older people’s individual differences in social motivation. Results showed that in socially motivated older adults, but not in people with low level of social motivation, ToM was positively associated with quality and quantity of friendships. The finding suggests that ToM is important to social adjustment only when people are interested in having social relations. Globally, in line with the literature, results showed an age-related decline in ToM ability which is task-independent. However the presented results suggested that motivation is not likely to play a major role in older adults’ ToM performance, even if it could lead to minor improvements under certain conditions. Furthermore, a secondary aim of this thesis was to inspect social correlates of ToM abilities in older adults. Findings offered some suggestions of a positive relation between ToM and friendships; moreover, results indicated that social motivation played a role in explaining this association.
File in questo prodotto:
File Dimensione Formato  
Irene Ceccato_Tesi_ToM in aging and motivation.pdf

accesso aperto

Descrizione: tesi di dottorato
Dimensione 1.58 MB
Formato Adobe PDF
1.58 MB Adobe PDF Visualizza/Apri

I documenti in IRIS sono protetti da copyright e tutti i diritti sono riservati, salvo diversa indicazione.

Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11571/1203283
Citazioni
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.pmc??? ND
  • Scopus ND
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.isi??? ND
social impact