Research has demonstrated that theory of mind (ToM), that is the ability to understand other’s thoughts and feelings, declines with age. However, less is known about older people’s perceptions about their own ability to “read” the mind of others. In the current study, we provide initial evidence on this issue by: (a) examining age-related differences in ToM personal beliefs; (b) analyzing the relation between personal beliefs and actual performance; and (c) investigating whether ToM, either beliefs or ability, explains individual differences in social relationships. Twenty-five independently living older adults and 26 young adults were administered both personal beliefs and performance-based ToM measures. Social relationships were analyzed by considering family members and friends separately. Results indicated lower ToM ability in older adults compared to younger participants, but no age-related differences in ToM personal beliefs. Furthermore, personal beliefs and performance were not associated in either young or older adults. Finally, regression analyses indicated that both ToM personal beliefs and ToM ability were significant predictors of relationships with friends, but not with family members. Overall, our findings indicated that, notwithstanding their impairment in ToM, older adults were as confident as young adults in their ability to understand others’ minds. Crucially, we found preliminary evidence that ToM, both beliefs and ability, are relevant for people’s social behavior, positively predicting better friendships.
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