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Anxiety symptoms and theory of mind in older and younger adults: Curvilinearity moderated by age group

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Thesis type
(Thesis) M.A.
Date created
Theory of mind (ToM), the ability to reason about the mental states of others, generally declines with age. Evidence suggests that anxiety symptoms may be a robust predictor of ToM abilities across adulthood, with important implications for social functioning. That said, current literature is mixed with respect to how anxiety and ToM are associated in adulthood and whether age contributes to differential patterns of association. Here, we examined 1) anxiety symptoms (linear and curvilinear) as predictors of cognitive ToM (C-ToM) and affective ToM (A-ToM), and 2) moderation by age group (older vs. younger adults). We used hierarchical regression models with polynomial and interaction terms in a sample of healthy younger (n = 90, Mage = 20.17 years) and older adults (n = 87, Mage = 71.52). Anxiety symptoms emerged as a significant predictor of C-ToM. In particular, significant interactions between anxiety and age group (β = -1.64, p = 0.02), and anxiety-quadratic and age group (β = 0.84, p = 0.04), suggested a quadratic association (inverted-U shaped) in younger adults, and a negative linear association in older adults. Anxiety symptoms were not significantly associated with A-ToM in either age group. Our findings highlight the importance of anxiety symptoms for ToM in adulthood and clarify important debates about the optimal role of anxiety in social cognition. Given the prevalence of anxiety symptoms in adulthood, elucidating associations are critical for developing interventions to improve ToM and social wellbeing.
53 pages.
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Copyright is held by the author(s).
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Loken, Thornton, Wendy
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