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Cognition. 2008 May;107(2):663-72. Epub 2007 Aug 31.

The role of control functions in mentalizing: dual-task studies of theory of mind and executive function.

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  • 1School of Psychology, William Guild Building, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 2UB, UK.


Conflicting evidence has arisen from correlational studies regarding the role of executive control functions in Theory of Mind. The current study used dual-task manipulations of executive functions (inhibition, updating and switching) to investigate the role of these control functions in mental state and non-mental state tasks. The 'Eyes' pictorial test of Theory of Mind showed specific dual-task costs when concurrently performed with an inhibitory secondary task. In contrast, interference effects on a verbal 'Stories' task were general, occurring on both mental state and non-mental state tasks, and across all types of executive function. These findings from healthy functioning adults should help to guide decisions about appropriate methods of assessing ToM in clinical populations, and interpreting deficits in performance in such tasks in the context of more general cognitive dysfunction.

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