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Sex differences in theory of mind: A male advantage on Happé's “cartoon” task



It is a commonly held stereotype that women show superior performance on tests of social cognition such as face processing and theory of mind (ToM) compared to men. However, such purported differences have not been empirically tested. In this study 40 healthy men and 40 women matched for age and years of education completed a well-known experimental ToM test requiring the attribution of either physical or mental states (Happé's cartoon task). Men showed superior performance compared to women, with a medium effect size, on both the mental state and physical state cartoons. It is suggested that men may use a cognitive systemising strategy during these tasks. The results emphasise the task-specific nature of sex differences in social cognition and necessitate future work to elucidate individual differences at the interface of cognitive and affective processes.
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Sex differences in theory of mind: A male advantage on
Happé's “cartoon” task
Tamara A. Russell
; Kate Tchanturia
; Qazi Rahman
; Ulrike Schmidt
Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, London, UK
Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
University of East London, London, UK
First Published on: 13 June 2007
To cite this Article: Russell, Tamara A., Tchanturia, Kate, Rahman, Qazi and
Schmidt, Ulrike (2007) 'Sex differences in theory of mind: A male advantage on
Happé's “cartoon” task', Cognition & Emotion, 21:7, 1554 — 1564
To link to this article: DOI: 10.1080/02699930601117096
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Downloaded By: [King's College London] At: 20:37 14 June 2008
Sex differences in theory of mind: A male advantage on
s ‘‘cartoon’’ task
Tamara A. Russell
Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, London, UK, and Macquarie
Centre for Cognitive Science, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Kate Tchanturia
Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, London, UK
Qazi Rahman
University of East London, London, UK
Ulrike Schmidt
Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, London, UK
It is a commonly held stereotype that women show superior performance on tests of
social cognition such as face processing and theory of mind (ToM) compared to
men. However, such purported differences have not been empirically tested. In this
study 40 healthy men and 40 women matched for age and years of education
completed a well-known experimental ToM test requiring the attribution of either
physical or mental states (Happe´s cartoon task). Men showed superior performance
compared to women, with a medium effect size, on both the mental state and
physical state cartoons. It is suggested that men may use a cognitive systemising
strategy during these tasks. The results emphasise the task-specific nature of sex
differences in social cognition and necessitate future work to elucidate individual
differences at the interface of cognitive and affective processes.
Correspondence should be addressed to: Dr Tamara Russell, Section of Neuroscience and
Emotion, PO Box 69, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK.
2007, 21 (7), 1554 1564
2007 Psychology Press, an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an Informa business DOI: 10.1080/02699930601117096
Downloaded By: [King's College London] At: 20:37 14 June 2008
Sex differences in human cognitive abilities are well established. Males are
typically found to excel on certain tests of mathematical reasoning and
visuo-spatial processing, in particular on tests of mental rotation, while
females excel on tests of verbal fluency, perceptual speed and spatial memory
for object locations (Kimura, 1999; Voyer, Voyer, & Bryden, 1995). However,
these differences are also task specific. For example, although males achieve
higher scores on tests of mathematical aptitude, females do better on tests
involving computation (Kimura, 1999). Additionally, females excel at one
type of spatial memory task *the encoding and retrieval of object locations,
while the oft-cited female superiority in ‘‘verbal abilities’’ is limited to tests
of verbal fluency*the generation of words or categories to phonetic or
semantic exemplars (Eals & Silverman, 1994; Kimura, 1999; Rahman,
Wilson, & Abrahams, 2003). However, while these ‘‘cold cognitive’’ abilities
have been dealt with at some length, the less-defined interaction between
cognitive processes on the one hand, and emotional processes on the other,
has received almost no attention in this and other individual differences
literature. These unique processes, which we refer to as ‘‘hot cognitive’’ or
‘‘social-cognitive’’ abilities, are the focus of the current work. The presence
of sex differences in ‘social-cognitive’’ functions (or ‘hot’’/affective cogni-
tion) is less well established. Nonetheless, several reviews and empirical
studies suggest a female advantage in the recognition of facial affect
(Campbell et al., 2002; Erwin et al., 1992; Hall, 1978; McClure, 2000;
Thayer & Johnsen, 2000). A popular assumption regarding sex differences in
social cognition is the notion that females are better than males at the
attribution of mental states to others, and in appropriate affective responses
to another’s affective state. The ability to make inferences about others’
mental states and the use of these inferences to predict and explain
behaviours has been termed ‘‘theory of mind’’ (ToM). It underlies humans’
ability to engage in complex social interaction, and may be the product of an
evolved, innately predisposed, and domain-specific cognitive mechanism
(Leslie, 1995). Although environmental effects on the rate of ToM
development have been reported, it is striking that children across different
cultures and backgrounds develop insight into others’ mental states at
approximately age four (Wellman & Lagattuta, 2000). Little is known about
how ToM develops beyond childhood, although one study suggests that
performance on ToM tasks may improve over the later adult years (Happe´,
Winner, & Brownell, 1998).
ToM is selectively impaired in the developmental disorder autism, while
other aspects of cognition are relatively spared (Happe´, 1994). ToM is
compromised in healthy adults following acquired damage to frontal regions
or areas of the non-dominant hemisphere (Brownell, Griffin, Winner,
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Friedman, & Happe´, 2000; Happe´, Brownell, & Winner, 1999; Rowe,
Bullock, Polkey, & Morris, 2001; Stuss, Gallup, & Alexander, 2001; Winner,
Brownell, Happe´, Blum, & Pincus, 1998;) and impairments are also seen in
the course of dementia (Gregory et al., 2002; Lough, Gregory, & Hodges,
2001). These findings concur with neuroimaging data implicating frontal
and temporal regions in healthy adults attempting to ‘‘read’’ a character’s
mind (Brunet, Sarfati, Hardy-Bayle, & Decety, 2000; Castelli, Frith,
Happe´, & Frith, 2002; Fletcher et al., 1995; Gallagher et al., 2000). It
should be noted, however, that the majority of these imaging studies have
been conducted using exclusively male subjects and as such can really only
provide information about the neural basis of ToM in the male brain. If we
plan to make inferences about mental function and neural organisation
relating to ToM on the basis of these results, it is important to ascertain if
sex differences are present on these types of tasks.
In his recent conceptualisation of the ‘‘extreme male brain theory of
autism’’, Baron-Cohen (2002) has cited several lines of evidence for a female
advantage on social cognitive tests, including the Reading the Mind in the
Eyes test in adults (Baron-Cohen, Jolliffe, Mortimore, & Robertson, 1997),
and the Faux Pas test (Baron-Cohen, O’Riordan, Stone, Jones, & Plaisted,
1999), false belief tasks (Happe´, 1995), perspective-taking and affective
labelling (Dunn, Brown, Slomkowski, Tesla, & Youngblade, 1991) in
children. Women also score higher on a psychometric construct called
‘‘empathising’’ (which involves identifying another’s thoughts and emotions
and responding appropriately) compared to men who score higher on
‘‘systemising’’ (the analysis of rule-driven behaviour in systems; Baron-
Cohen, Richler, Bisarya, Gurunathan, & Wheelwright, 2003). However, few
of these studies explicitly explored male and female ability profiles outside of
the context of experimental comparison with the performance of individuals
with autism or Asperger’s syndrome on these tests. Moreover, there are
almost no experimental studies on adults.
It is uncertain whether sex differences in either ‘‘cold’’ or ‘‘hot’’ cognition
stem from biological or psychosocial determinants, although recent interest
has focused on the role of organisational and activational effects of gonadal
hormones and variation in neural substrates underlying performance on
these tasks (Baron-Cohen, 2002; Collaer & Hines, 1995; Frederiske, Lu,
Aylward, Barta, & Pearlson,1999; Grimshaw, Sitarenios, & Finegan, 1995;
Gur et al., 2000; Hines, 2000). Lutchmaya, Baron-Cohen, and Raggatt
(2002) reported sex differences in social and non-social orienting responses
as early as 12 months in human infants, suggesting that maturational factors
on social cognition operate early in development.
The question of sex differences in ToM is particularly pertinent with the
increased attention in the psychiatric literature to social cognition. Several
psychiatric disorders show sexually dimorphic clinical and developmental
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characteristics and ToM impairments. In schizophrenia attention has begun
to turn to the profile of the social cognitive deficits seen in this group, given
that it is these types of difficulties that are a good predictor of outcome
(Penn, Combs, & Mohamed, 2001; Rocone et al., 2002). Although the
prevalence of schizophrenia is equivalent across the sexes, there are
differences in the age of onset, with male onset peaking between 20 to
24 years, while in females a smaller peak is seen at approximately 35 years of
age (World Health Organization, 1979; Hafner, Maurer, Loffler, & Reicher-
Rosslet, 1993). One effect of this sex dimorphic onset is that the majority of
studies reported in the literature are based on predominantly male samples.
Psychopathic personality disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
and conduct disorder are also far more common in males and there are
several reports of social cognitive deficits in these conditions (Blair, Jones,
Clark, & Smith, 1997; Hughes, Dunn, & White, 1998; Biederman et al.,
2002; cf. Richell et al., 2003; Widom, 1976). Also, and by far the clearest
example, is autism, characterised by a high male prevalence and pervasive
deficits in social cognition. As has already been alluded, Baron-Cohen
(2002) has suggested that autism is evidenced by a very male-typical
cognitive ability profile, including impaired ToM, communication and
language processing, and facial affect processing, yet superior ‘‘systemising’’
abilities such as attention to detail, preference for constructional and vehicle
toys, and islets of ability in factual and rule-based systems or academic
subjects. Lastly, a recent study has suggested that females with anorexia
nervosa (AN) have persevered ToM abilities, despite suggested similarities
between AN and autism-spectrum disorders (Fisman, Steele, Short, Byrne,
& Lavalee, 1996; Tchanturia et al., 2005). Clearly, further empirical data on
normative sex differences (as well as other individual differences) in ToM is
essential to furthering our understanding of impairments in social cognition
in these clinical disorders.
The aim of the present investigation was to utilise a well-established
ToM task (Happe´s cartoon task; Happe´ et al., 1999) in a sample of
healthy adult males and females matched for age and years of education.
The cartoon task comprises twelve cartoons, taken from newspapers; half
of which require the understanding of a character’s mental state in order to
get the joke and the other half requiring the understanding of physical
states. It has been used previously to assess ToM in brain-damaged
individuals (Happe´ et al., 1999), and with patients with schizophrenia;
Russell, 2002).
This represents the first study of its kind. The dearth of prior literature
precludes directional hypothesising. However, on the basis of the extant
literature for a female advantage in other domains of social cognition and
the theoretical proposal that females should be adept at inference of
mental states specifically (Baron-Cohen, 2002), it was predicted that
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females would perform better than males on the mental states (MS)
component of the task. No sex differences were expected on the physical
states (PS) component of the task, as these do not involve inferences about
mental states.
These were 40 females and 40 males matched for age and years of education
(males mean age 34.3, SD
/10.58, range /1861; education level mean
13.8 years, SD
/2.9, range 8 21; females mean age 30.35, SD/9.39, range
1966; education level mean 14.32 years, SD
/2.36, range 920). Partici-
pants were screened by a clinical psychologist (KT) and an experienced
research psychologist (TR) to ensure no prior history of psychiatric or
neurological morbidity, or learning disabilities.
Happe´s theory of mind cartoon task was used (Happe´ et al., 1999). Half the
cartoons (6 stimuli) required the understanding of a physical state in order to
‘‘get’’ the joke (PS cartoons) and half required the understanding of a mental
state (MS cartoons) in order to appreciate the joke. The cartoons were
scored using guidelines provided by Happe´, with a score of 3 given for a full
explanation; 2 for a partial explanation; 1 if the subject mentioned relevant
details of the picture or gave a description only; and 0 if the subject
mentioned only irrelevant aspects of the picture. A maximum score of 18 was
obtainable in each condition (MS and PS). The cartoons were presented to
each subject in a different order to minimise ordering and fatigue effects on
Participants were seen individually in a session lasting approximately
30 minutes. Each participant was remunerated for his or her time. The
Ethical (Research) Committee of the Institute of Psychiatry and Maudsley
Hospital, London, approved all procedures.
Statistical analysis
To determine whether the data were normally distributed, box-plots were
computed for each variable. Group differences in age and years in education
were analysed by the one-way analyses of variance (ANOVA) using the
Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) Version 10.0. Group
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differences in ToM performance were examined using General Linear Model
(GLM) repeated measures ANOVA with Sex as the between-subjects factor
and Cartoon Condition (MS or PS) as the within-subject repeated factor.
Effect size was calculated as [mean 1
/mean 2]/[(SD 1/SD 2)/2], where
0.2 is a small effect, 0.5 a medium effect and 0.8 a large effect by standard
criteria (Cohen, 1988). Alpha level was set at .05. Interrater reliability for
scores on the cartoon task was assessed by two raters for 31 subjects
Participant characteristics
There were no significant between-group difference in years of education,
F(1, 78)
/0.78, p/.37, nor age, F(1, 78)/3.11, p/.08.
ToM Performance
Males had a mean score of 15.75 (SD/2.45, range 718) on the MS
cartoons while females had a mean of 13.37 (SD
/3.97, range 5 18). On the
PS cartoons, the male mean was 15.95 (SD
/1.79, range 9 18) while the
female mean was 13.77 (SD
/2.92, range 618).
There was a main effect of sex, F(1, 78)
/16.18, p/.001. Irrespective of
cartoon type, male subjects were more accurate than female subjects on this
task (male mean
/15.85, SD/1.80; female mean/13.57, SD /3.08). There
was no main effect of cartoon type, Wilks’ Lambda
/.988, F(1, 78)/0.91,
/.34, nor any interaction between sex and cartoon type, Wilks’ Lambda/
.99, F(1, 78) /0.10, p /.75.
Effect sizes were calculated using the average score of MS and PS
cartoons and resulted in an effect size (Cohen’s d) of 0.80. Calculating these
separately for the MS and the PS cartoons revealed effect sizes of 0.53 and
0.86 respectively.
The aim of the present study was to explore the notion that adult females
would show better performance than adult males on a ToM task requiring
mental state inferences in contrast to physical state inferences (for which no
sex differences were predicted). Such tasks are a hallmark feature of
psychological investigations at the interface of cognitive, affective and social
processes. The results clearly show no support for this hypothesis. Rather, we
found, for the first time, strong evidence that the opposite is true*that men
performed better on our ToM task across both conditions compared to
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women. These findings are inconsistent with the suggestion that females
(both girls and adults) should perform better on tasks designed to tap into
the ability to make accurate inferences about the mental states of others
(Baron-Cohen, 2002; Baron-Cohen et al., 1997, 1999, 2003; Dunn et al.,
1991; Happe´, 1995).
The effect size for the difference was in the medium to large range
(Cohen, 1988). Given the size of the effect it is unlikely that this finding is
spurious and makes this sex difference similar to the male advantage on the
mental rotation test (Voyer et al., 1995). Moreover, the sample comprised
healthy adults screened for any evidence of psychiatric or neurological
morbidity, learning disabilities and matched on age and years of education.
Thus, the finding appears somewhat robust. Other task details, such as the
requirement to ‘‘get the joke’’, are unlikely to explain the findings as there
are no clear sex differences in the appreciation of humour. The observation
that males in the present study showed better inference of mental and
physical states compared to women suggests a generalised male advantage
for understanding the rules underlying inferential processes regardless of
whether they involve animate (which includes systems that ‘‘mentalise’’, i.e.,
other humans) or inanimate objects. We propose that the male advantage
observed here reflects a task-specific ‘systemising’’ strategy employed by
men, ‘‘systemising’’ being a construct on which men are known to score
particularly highly when evaluated psychometrically (Baron-Cohen et al.,
2003). The ‘‘cartoon’’ task and, in fact, many standardised ToM measures
require the understanding and prediction of law-governed behaviour. The
cartoon task comprises an inductive process from which one formulates a
rule about how the system, or in this case the inferential components of the
task, works. This is comparable to many standardised decision-making
tasks. In support of this explanation Reavis and Overman (2001) reported a
robust male advantage on the Iowa Card Sorting task, a reward-related
decision-making task. Performance on this task has previously been shown
to depend on the integrity of the orbital prefrontal cortex, a region also
implicated in ToM processing (Reavis & Overman, 2001). Thus, a common
neural substrate underlying systemic decision-making and ToM may explain
the male advantage. In monkeys, the orbital prefrontal region matures faster
in males than in females and, consequently, infant male monkeys outper-
form infant females on another decision-making task, the object reversal
task (see Reavis & Overman, 2001, for a review).
The present findings also add to an increasing body of experimental work
in another domain of social or ‘‘affective’’ cognition*facial emotion
recognition* where mixed results regarding sex differences have been found
(Campbell et al., 2002; Thayer & Johnsen, 2000; cf. Erwin et al., 1992). This
brings into question the extent to which sex differences in social cognition
can be generalised across measures used to test them. As with sex differences
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in facial emotion recognition, there are more consistent findings for a stable
difference favouring female infants, children and adolescents (for facial
emotion recognition see McClure, 2000; for ToM see Baron-Cohen et al.,
1999; Dunn et al., 1991; Happe´, 1995; Hughes & Dunn, 1998). Thus it is
possible that early sex differences do not extend into adulthood. This would
make social cognitive ability similar to many aspects of verbal ability (aside
from verbal fluency) in which girls mature faster than boys but the female
advantage has dissipated by adulthood (Kimura, 1999; Lynn, 1994).
Lastly, the male advantage demonstrated in the present study may be a
reflection of the type of task used. While this test has been used by a number
of studies to probe ToM, it is not clear how performance on this task relates
to actual social functioning, which may include a more affective component.
While it has yet to be empirically investigated, it may be the case that there
are both ‘‘hot’’ and ‘‘cold’’ routes to solve ToM problems with the cartoon
task probing a ‘‘cold’’ route. To test the prediction that females might be
better on more affective ToM tasks (for example on Baron-Cohens Reading
the Mind in the Eyes test) different types of ToM tasks should be used in the
same sample of participants.
In conclusion, we have shown, for the first time, a male advantage on one
well-established test of ToM, Happe´s cartoon task, and have suggested that
this is due to a task-specific systemising strategy used by men. These data
suggest sexual dimorphism in social abilities that involve both cognitive and
affective components to their execution. These findings should alert
investigators to the potential pitfalls of using tasks with several unspecified
cognitive subcomponents and be wary of models of sex differences based on
little more than stereotypical gender schemas. Future studies will have to
employ a range of ToM tasks that incorporate the major dimensions of both
‘‘systemising’’ and ‘‘empathising’’ in order to explicate fully normative sex
Manuscript received 9 July 2003
Revised manuscript received 13 October 2005
Manuscript accepted 9 November 2006
First published online 13 June 2007
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... In addition to having the higher quality sibling relationships, women have a better understanding that the mental states of others might be different than their own, measured by performance on Theory of Mind tasks (Baron-Cohen et al., 1997;Russell et al., 2007) and they have higher empathy compared to men (Rueckert & Naybar, 2008;Schieman & Van Gundy, 2000). The reason why women may appear more empathetic might be that girls are usually raised to be encouraging and understanding, are socialized to orient to the needs of others (McGoldrick, 1989), and are not reproached for showing emotions (Cervantes & Callanan, 1998). ...
Objective This study aimed to explore sibling relationship quality and empathy of women in emerging adulthood. Background The gender composition of siblings is a significant feature affecting their relationship dynamics. In particular, women, compared with men, report closer sibling relationships with their sisters and brothers. Similarly, women are better at understanding and experiencing empathy. However, it is unclear whether these empathic tendencies displayed by women are connected to their sibling relationship quality or whether affective and cognitive empathy skills may relate to sibling relationship dynamics. Methods A mixed-method explanatory sequential design was used to evaluate sibling relationships of emerging adult women (N = 284) with standardized questionnaires and explain the reasons behind the results by interviewing a subsample of the participants (n = 9). Results Results indicated that affective empathy and cognitive empathy were linked to sibling relationship quality of women, and major issues in the family play a crucial role in sibling closeness and empathy. Conclusion The current study expands our understanding of the association between empathy and sibling relationship dynamics for emerging adult women. Implications Programs designed to improve sibling relationship quality may facilitate empathy development, particularly during family crises such as divorce, death, or disease.
... En la búsqueda de explicación de tales resultados, se ha indagado respecto a posibles diferencias biológicas o de carácter evolutivo, por ejemplo, de cómo los roles y la división del trabajo "moldeó" de forma diferente el cerebro de hombres y mujeres. Aun bajo este panorama, la discusión está abierta, y resultados contradictorios han encontrado una ventaja para el género masculino cuando se utilizan tareas que utilizan viñetas (véase Russell et al., 2007). Aunque en el presente estudio no se encontró ningún efecto por género, esta sí resulto ser una variable predictora dentro del modelo. ...
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Con el objetivo de indagar respecto a la influencia de la lectura de creencias sobre la competencia pragmática, en el presente estudio 56 niños de entre 48 y 54 meses pertenecientes al programa Buen Comienzo de la ciudad de Medellín participaron en un diseño experimental pre-post con grupo control. Para la evaluación de la lectura de creencias se adaptaron al español cuatro pruebas de la escala de Wellman y Liu (2004), mientras que para evaluar la competencia pragmática se adaptaron cuatro situaciones comunicativas propuestas por Sacco et al. (2008). Para la manipulación de la variable se llevaron a cabo 10 sesiones de entrenamiento en lectura de creencias. De acuerdo con los resultados intragrupo, el programa de entrenamiento fue efectivo para mejorar la variable entrenada, pues el grupo experimental mejoró su desempeño en la lectura de creencias (p = .007; d = –.663) y en la competencia pragmática (p = .007; d = .648); no obstante, aunque se encontraron diferencias significativas entre el grupo experimental y el grupo control para la lectura de creencias (p = .001; d = .472), no fue así para el desempeño en la competencia pragmática (p = .340; d = .143). A la luz de estos resultados, no es posible asegurar una relación de influencia de la lectura de creencias sobre la competencia pragmática; sin embargo, se encontró un modelo de regresión lineal satisfactorio cuando se incluyeron en los análisis variables sociodemográficas. Al final del artículo se discute respecto a la necesidad de integrar variables de contexto cuando se indaga por una posible relación de influencia de una variable psicológica sobre otra.
... Existing literature has shown mixed results regarding the effect of biological sex and education on SC performances in healthy adults, with emotion recognition and ToM being the most investigated components. Previous studies found sex-related differences in recognition of basic and complex emotions (Abbruzzese et al., 2019;Baron-Cohen et al., 2015;Kirkland et al., 2013;Olderbak et al., 2018;Thompson & Voyer, 2014;Williams et al., 2009) and ToM abilities (Faísca et al., 2016;Fischer et al., 2016;Russell et al., 2007). In contrast, other results did not provide evidence for sex variations in emotion recognition (Navarra-Ventura et al., 2017;Di Tella et al., 2020) and ToM (Franco & Smith, 2013;Di Tella et al., 2020). ...
Accumulating evidence points toward an association between older age and performance decrements in social cognition (SC). We explored age-related variations in four components of SC: emotion recognition, theory of mind, social judgment, and blame attributions. A total of 120 adults divided into three stages (18-34 years, 35-59 years, 60-85 years) completed a battery of SC. Between and within age-group differences in SC were investigated. Path analyses were used to identify relationships among the components. Emotion recognition and theory of mind showed differences beginning either in midlife, or after. Blame attributions and social judgment did not show a significant difference. However, social judgment varied significantly within groups. Path models revealed a relationship between emotion recognition and theory of mind. Findings highlight age-related differences in some components and a link between two components. Strategies promoting social functioning in aging might help to maintain or improve these abilities over time.
... While there has been evidence of sex differences in some cognitive processes such as language and emotional processing (Besson et al., 2002;Schirmer et al., 2005a,b), other works could not find any conclusive evidence of such differences (Russell et al., 2007;Wallentin, 2009). Similar to functional organization, sex differences were found in the structural organization of the brain (Chekroud et al., 2016;Del Giudice et al., 2016;Rosenblatt, 2016). ...
Background/Introduction: Sex classification using functional connectivity (FC) from resting-state fMRI (rs-fMRI) has shown promising results. This suggested that sex difference might also be embedded in the blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) properties like the amplitude of low-frequency fluctuation (ALFF) and the fraction of ALFF (fALFF). This study comprehensively investigates sex differences using a reliable and explainable machine learning (ML) pipeline. Five independent cohorts of resting-state fMRI with over than 5500 samples were used to assess sex classification performance and map the spatial distribution of the important brain regions. Methods: Five rsfMRI samples were used to extract ALFF and fALFF features from predefined brain parcellations and then were fed into an unbiased and explainable ML pipeline with a wide range of methods. The pipeline comprehensively assessed unbiased performance for within-sample and across sample validation. Additionally, the parcellation effect, classifiers selection, scanning length, spatial distribution, reproducibility, and feature importance were analyzed and evaluated thoroughly in the study. Results: The results demonstrated high sex classification accuracies from healthy adults (area under the curve (AUC) > 0.89) while degrading for non-healthy subjects. Sex classification showed moderate to good intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) based on parcellation. Linear classifiers outperform non-linear classifiers. Sex differences could be detected even with a short rs-fMRI scan (e.g., 2 minutes). The spatial distribution of important features overlaps with previous results from Studies. Discussion: Sex differences are consistent in rs-fMRI and should be considered seriously in any study design, analysis, or interpretation. Features that discriminate males and females were found to be distributed across several different brain regions, suggesting a complex mosaic for sex differences in resting-state fMRI.
... Another topic that remains to be clarified is gender differences in social cognition in people with FEP. Some studies found better performance in women with psychosis in social cognition measured as a unique domain (Eack et al., 2010;Labad et al., 2016) and in some specific dimensions of social cognition, as emotion recognition (Scholten et al., 2005), and one study of (Russell et al., 2007) found better performance in theory of mind in males. ...
People with first episode of psychosis (FEP) show deficits in social cognition, which have been linked to several sociodemographic, clinical, and psychosocial variables. The aim of the present research was to study social cognition as a whole measure in people with FEP comparing it with a healthy control sample, to study gender differences, and to examine the relationship between sociodemographic, clinical, and psychosocial variables and social cognition in the onset of psychosis. A descriptive, cross-sectional study was performed. The study sample consisted of 63 people (18 females; 45 males) with a diagnosis of FEP and a healthy control group (78 participants: 38 females; 40 males). All the participants were assessed with the social cognitive domain of the MATRICS Consensus Cognitive Battery (MCCB) and several questionnaires related to studied variables. Our results indicated that compared with healthy controls, people with FEP showed social cognition deficits. Furthermore, premorbid IQ was the most relevant variable in social cognition performance in FEP sample. The findings of the present research may be taken into account in clinical practice to improve the intervention with people with FEP.
... Thompson and Voyer (2014) provided evidence that women have greater ToM abilities, due to their higher degree of social empathy. Research by Pezzuti, Longobardi, Milletti, andOvidi (2011) andPinkham, Kelsven, Kouros, Harvey, andPenn (2017) on elderly populations have questioned those results, however, and one study (Russell, Tchanturia, Rahman, & Schmidt, 2007) even drew the opposite conclusion, finding better ToM skills among the male population. The reasons for these contradictory results may lie in differences in the instruments used to assess ToM, the format in which the tests were administered (orally, via video or written), participants' age range in each study or the health characteristics of the members of each sample (Fischer et al., 2017;Wellman, Fang, & Peterson, 2011). ...
Theory of Mind (ToM) is a crucial factor in the social integration of the elderly. Nonetheless, there has been a dearth of research into the relationship between ToM and presbycusis, even though presbycusis is a very common pathology among people over 65 years of age. The aim of this study is to analyze the functioning of the two types of ToM (affective and cognitive ToM) in aging populations, as well as to examine the components of ToM connected to ironic language, all in order to determine whether people with presbycusis show a similar ToM profile to those without any hearing loss. The sample consisted of 69 participants with a mean age of 75. Of the participants, 52 had some degree of hearing loss. Some participants with hearing loss used a hearing aid. All participants were asked to complete six ToM tasks. The results show that age influences ToM scores, especially for cognitive and irony recognition tasks. This decline in ToM was greater in participants experiencing mild cognitive impairment and also among those with hearing loss. Among participants with presbycusis, those who used a hearing aid obtained better results than those who did not. Gender and sociocultural background were not found to be significant variables. The results point to a need to monitor both hearing and cognitive abilities, especially those related to ToM, and to offer specific treatment whenever possible to avoid social alienation.
... (2014), using the five-step model of ToM (Peterson, Wellman, & Liu, 2005), found that the young adult women demonstrated superior ability in ToM compared to young adult men, and that this ability was strongly associated with levels of prosociality. As such, it is claimed that women are better able to attribute the mental states of others, and affect more socially appropriate responses, than their male counterparts (Blair, 2005;Russell, Tchanturia, Rahman, & Schmidt, 2007). In other words, it could be that women are more prosocially skilled than men, and therefore more compliant regarding the rules of society. ...
Previous research suggests that a lack of pro-social skills is characteristic of an offending personality. Two hundred male and female offenders and matched controls completed measures to assess: Theory of Mind, empathic understanding, and moral reasoning. Significant differences between the offenders and the control group, as well as between the male and female participants, were detected in theory of mind, empathic understanding and moral reasoning with offenders scoring lower than the control group, and with males scoring lower than females on most tests. The ability to assess Theory of Mind, empathic understanding, and moral reasoning, and subsequently to identify reduced ability, is not only useful for researchers but will also allow practitioners to tailor existing (or develop new) interventions specific to the needs of individuals. This could be particularly useful in terms of recidivism when applied to those involved in anti-social or offending behavior.
... Therefore, we can conclude that instead of a widely distributed thalamocortical connections (alpha amplitude), alterations of neocortical area connectivity (alpha coherence) corresponding to R-Post are related to the ToM ability in healthy adults. The continuation of this correlation only in males might be explained with the superiority of females in adult ToM tests (57) although there are some exceptions (58). A second support comes from studies showing temporal cortex disturbances especially in males (59)(60)(61)(62)(63). Hence, it is understandable that this relation is more pronounced or only present in males. ...
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Background: Theory of Mind (ToM) is the ability to understand the states of others by attributing mental states and emotions to them. This ability grows as brain networks develop depending on the experience; thus, being able to appropriately detect external stimuli is of great importance. The alpha band is known to be related to detection and perception of salient stimuli; however, there are few studies that have examined the role of alpha oscillations in ToM. Aim: The aim of the study is to investigate relation of alpha coherence and power to ToM. Methods: Eyes open resting state EEG was recorded from each participant. After a period of time, the participants were invited to complete ToM test. ToM ability measured by the Theory of Mind-Humor Comprehension and Appreciation Test (ToM-HCAT). Coherence and power values for the candidate connection groups were calculated in the alpha band (8-13 Hz; n=45). Results: The hypoconnectivity in the right posterior area was related to a better ToM ability (rs(42)=-0.395, p=0.008). The correlation was preserved only in males rs(18)=-0.522, p=0.018, and there was not a significant relation for females rs(22)=-0.335, p=0.110. Conclusion: We showed that the ToM ability was related to alpha coherence dimensionally within healthy population. Although the direct relation of alpha coherence with the ToM ability is unclear, it is highly possible that attention plays a mediatory role between neural network development and the capacity of this network to process social cognition.
... Here we aim to qualitatively synthesize and quantitatively examine available evidence on the association between socio-cognitive and -affective functioning in adolescents in relation to substance use and predictions of future use. Because social processes and substance use show gender-related differences (Brady & Randall, 1999;Christov-Moore et al., 2014;Geary, 2002;Russell et al., 2007;Stickle et al., 2012) that may also vary by sample type (clinical versus community; Colins et al., 2020;Cotter et al., 2018;Decety & Moriguchi, 2007;Herpers et al., 2016;Loney et al., 2003), we explore gender and sample effects. Age is also explored as a moderator because normative use patterns change with age (Dennis & Scott, 2007;Rutherford et al., 2010). ...
Background Social impairments are important features of a substance use disorder diagnosis; and recent models suggest early impairments in socio-cognitive and -affective processes may predict future use. However, no systematic reviews are available on this topic. Methods We conducted a systematic review and meta-analyses exploring the association between social- cognitive and -affective processes (empathy, callous-unemotional (CU) traits, theory of mind, and social cognition) and substance use frequency (alcohol, cannabis, general drug use). We examined moderating effects of study design, gender, age, and whether conduct problems were controlled for. We also review brain studies related to social cognition and substance use disorder (SUD) risk. Results Systematic review suggested a negative association for positively valenced constructs with substance use but mixed results on the negatively valenced construct CU traits. Meta-analyses revealed a moderate positive association between CU traits with alcohol and general drug use but no significance with cannabis use. Moderate effect sizes were found for CU traits in youth predicting the severity of substance use by late adolescence and significantly accounted for variance independently of conduct problems. Significant moderators included gender proportions, sample type, and age. Neuroimaging meta-analysis indicated 10 coordinates that were different in youth at a high risk/with SUD compared to controls. Three of these coordinates associate with theory of mind and social cognition. Conclusion Socio-cognitive and -affective constructs demonstrate an association with current and future substance use, and neural differences are present when performing social cognitive tasks in regions with the strongest associations with theory of mind and social cognition.
Introduction: Many neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders produce Theory of Mind impairment. We aimed to implement a Brazilian Portuguese version of the Faux Pas Recognition Test (FPRT) and evaluate its psychometric properties. Methods: We first completed an English-Brazilian Portuguese translation and adaptation to obtain an FPRT Brazilian Portuguese version. We performed a multicentric study with 153 healthy participants (68.6% women), mean age of 38.8 years (SD = 14.6) and 12.9 years of schooling (SD = 4.5). Linear regression analysis was performed to evaluate the association of social class, age, schooling, and FPRT scores. The psychometric analyses comprised item analysis, exploratory factor analysis, reliability, and validity analysis. Results: Normative data in a Brazilian population is presented. A positive correlation of scores with years of schooling, social class, and an inverse relation with age was found. The exploratory factorial analysis found a two-component structure, one component, consisting of questions 1 through 6 (Eigenvalue 5.325) and another component, consisting of questions 7 and 8 (Eigenvalue 1.09). Cronbach’s alpha of the 20 stories was .72. All control stories had a poor discriminative index. Conclusion: The FPRT Brazilian Portuguese version demonstrated good internal consistency and, psychometric properties and is adequate for use even in lower educational contexts in Brazil.
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Summary Ten able adults with autism or Asperger syndrome and 10 normal volunteers were PET scanned while watching animated sequences. The animations depicted two triangles moving about on a screen in three different conditions: moving randomly, moving in a goal-directed fashion (chasing, fighting), and moving interactively with implied intentions (coaxing, tricking). The last condition frequently elicited descriptions in terms of mental states that viewers attributed to the triangles (mentalizing). The autism group gave fewer and less accurate descriptions of these latter animations, but equally accurate descriptions of the other animations compared with controls. While viewing animations that elicited mentalizing, in contrast to randomly moving shapes, the normal group showed increased activation in a previously identified mentalizing network (medial prefrontal cortex, superior temporal sulcus at the temporoparietal junction and temporal poles). The autism group showed less activation than the normal group in all these regions. However, one additional region, extrastriate cortex, which was highly active when watching animations that elicited mentalizing, showed the same amount of increased activation in both groups. In the autism group this extrastriate region showed reduced functional connectivity with the superior temporal sulcus at the temporo-parietal junction, an area associated with the processing of biological motion as well as with mentalizing. This finding suggests a physiological cause for the mentalizing dysfunction in autism: a bottleneck in the interaction between higher order and lower order perceptual processes.
In this paper, we adopt a neurodevelopmental stance to examining frontal variant frontotemporal dementia (fv-FTD) by using experimental procedures from the literature on the growth of social behaviour in children to examine the deficits in social reasoning which may underpin behavioural disturbance in fv-FTD. We present the case of a 47-year-old man with a diagnosis of fv-FTD and severe antisocial behaviour. Tests of general neuropsychology and of executive function were performed. In addition, the patient, JM, was assessed on tasks which test theory of mind. Theory of mind develops in distinct stages through childhood and is a core ability to represent the thoughts and feelings of others, independent of the level of intellectual ability. The results indicate relatively intact general neuropsychological and executive function, but extremely poor performance on tasks of theory of mind. This indicates a dissociation of social cognition and executive function suggesting that in psychiatric presentations of fv-FTD there may be a fundamental deficit in theory of mind independent of the level of executive function. The implications of this finding for diagnostic procedures and possible behavioural management are discussed.
Patients with limited focal frontal and nonfrontal lesions were tested for visual perspective taking and detecting deception. Frontal lobe lesions impaired the ability to infer mental states in others, with dissociation of performance within the frontal lobes. Lesions throughout the frontal lobe, with some suggestion of a more important role for the right frontal lobe, were associated with impaired visual perspective taking. Medial frontal lesions, particularly right ventral, impaired detection of deception. The former may require cognitive processes of the lateral and superior medial frontal regions, the latter affective connections of the ventral medial frontal with amygdala and other limbic regions.
Summary A key aspect of social cognition is the ability to infer other people’s mental states, thoughts and feelings; referred to as ‘theory of mind’ (ToM). We tested the hypothesis that the changes in personality and behaviour seen in frontal variant frontotemporal dementia (fvFTD) may reflect impairment in this cognitive domain. Tests of ToM, executive and general neuropsychological ability were given to 19 fvFTD patients, a comparison group of Alzheimer’s disease patients (n = 12) and matched healthy controls (n = 16). Neuropsychiatric assessment was undertaken using the Neuropsychiatric Inventory (NPI). Patients with fvFTD were impaired on all tests of ToM (first-order false belief; second-order false belief; faux pas detection; and Reading the Mind in the Eyes), but had no difficulty with control questions designed to test general comprehension and memory. By contrast, the Alzheimer’s disease group failed only one ToM task (second-order false belief), which places heavy demands on working memory. Performance on the faux pas test revealed a double dissociation, with the fvFTD group showing deficits on ToM-based questions and the Alzheimer’s disease group failing memory-based questions only. Rank order of the fvFTD patients according to the magnitude of impairment on tests of ToM and their degree of frontal atrophy showed a striking concordance between ToM performances and ventromedial frontal damage. There was a significant correlation between the NPI score and more sophisticated tests of ToM in the fvFTD group. This study supports the hypothesis that patients with fvFTD, but not those with Alzheimer’s disease, are impaired on tests of ToM, and may explain some of the abnormalities in interpersonal behaviour that characterize fvFTD.
A key component of human intelligence is our ability to think about each other's mental states. This ability provides an interesting challenge for cognitive neuroscience at- tempts to understand the nature of abstract concepts and how the brain acquires them. Research over the past 15 years has shown that very young children and children of extremely lim- ited intellectual ability can acquire mental state concepts with ease. Children with Kanner's syndrome have severe difficulty using these concepts, despite relatively great experience and ability. These discoveries have led to the development of the first information processing models of belief-desire reasoning. The term "theory of mind" was coined by David Pre- mack (Premack and Woodruff, 1978) to refer to our ability to explain, predict, and interpret behavior in terms of mental states, like wanting, believing, and pretending. Because the behavior of complex organisms is a result of their cognitive properties— their perceptions, goals, internal information structures, and so on —it may have been adaptive for our species to develop some sensitivity to these properties. The capacity to attend to mental state properties is probably based on a specialized represent- ational system and is evident even in young children. The term "theory of mind" is potentially misleading. It might suggest that the child really has a theory or that the child has a theory of mind as such. Although there are some writers who hold such views (Perner, 1991; Gopnik and Meltzoff, 1997; Gopnik and Wellman, 1995), I assume simply that the child is endowed with a representational system that captures cognitive proper- ties underlying behavior. To better see what is meant by "theory of mind" ability, consider the following scenario (figure 85.1). Sally has a marble that she places in a bas- ket and covers, and then departs. While she is gone, Ann removes the marble from the basket and places it in the box. A child to whom this scenario is presented then is asked to predict where Sally will look for her marble when she returns. To correctly predict Sally's be- havior, it is necessary to take into account both Sally's desire for the marble and Sally's belief concerning the location of the marble. In this scenario, Sally's belief is
Summarizes results of 75 studies that reported accuracy for males and females at decoding nonverbal communication. The following attributes of the studies were coded: year, sample size, age of judges, sex of stimulus person, age of stimulus person, and the medium and channel of communication (e.g., photos of facial expressions, filtered speech). These attributes were examined in relation to 3 outcome indices: direction of effect, effect size (in standard deviation units), and significance level. Results show that more studies found a female advantage than would occur by chance, the average effect was of moderate magnitude and was significantly larger than zero, and more studies reached a conventional level of significance than would be expected by chance. The gender effect for visual-plus-auditory studies was significantly larger than for visual-only and auditory-only studies. The magnitude of the effect did not vary reliably with sample size, age of judges, sex of stimulus person, or age of stimulus person. (60 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Sex differences in cognitive performance have been documented, women performing better on some phonological tasks and men on spatial tasks. An earlier fMRI study suggested sex differences in distributed brain activation during phonological processing, with bilateral activation seen in women while men showed primarily left-lateralized activation. This blood oxygen level-dependent fMRI study examined sex differences (14 men, 13 women) in activation for a spatial task (judgment of line orientation) compared to a verbal-reasoning task (analogies) that does not typically show sex differences. Task difficulty was manipulated. Hypothesized ROI-based analysis documented the expected left-lateralized changes for the verbal task in the inferior parietal and planum temporale regions in both men and women, but only men showed right-lateralized increase for the spatial task in these regions. Image-based analysis revealed a distributed network of cortical regions activated by the tasks, which consisted of the lateral frontal, medial frontal, mid-temporal, occipitoparietal, and occipital regions. The activation was more left lateralized for the verbal and more right for the spatial tasks, but men also showed some left activation for the spatial task, which was not seen in women. Increased task difficulty produced more distributed activation for the verbal and more circumscribed activation for the spatial task. The results suggest that failure to activate the appropriate hemisphere in regions directly involved in task performance may explain certain sex differences in performance. They also extend, for a spatial task, the principle that bilateral activation in a distributed cognitive system underlies sex differences in performance.
The ability to make inferences about others' mental states has been termed ‘theory of mind’ (ToM). It underlies the ability to engage in complex social interaction and is impaired in autism. A subgroup of anorexia nervosa (AN) sufferers has autism-spectrum disorders/empathy disorders. The aim of the study was to explore whether, even in the absence of clear-cut autistic features, impairments in their ability to mentalize could be found in AN patients. Twenty patients with AN and 20 female healthy control (HC) subjects were tested using: (1) a story comprehension task (ToM stories and control stories); and (2) a cartoon task (ToM cartoons and control cartoons). Individuals with AN performed worse than HC subjects on ToM and on control tasks. However, there was no evidence of any selective impairment of ToM in AN sufferers. These findings do not support a specific link between impaired ToM and AN. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and Eating Disorders Association.
The present paper investigated recognition errors in affective judgement of facial emotional expressions. Twenty-eight females and sixteen males participated in the study. The results showed that in both males and females emotional displays could be correctly classified, but females had a higher rate of correct classification; males were more likely to have difficulty distinguishing one emotion from another. Females rated emotions identically regardless of whether the emotion was displayed by a male or female face. Furthermore, the two-factor structure of emotion, based on a valence and an arousal dimension, was only present for female subjects. These results further extend our knowledge about gender differences in affective information processing.