Social-Cognitive Deficits in Normal Aging
Joseph M. Moran, Eshin Jolly, and Jason P. Mitchell
J. Neurosci. 2012;32 5553-5561
A sizeable number of studies have implicated the default network (e.g., medial prefrontal and parietal cortices) in tasks that require participants to infer the mental states of others (i.e., to mentalize). Parallel research has demonstrated that default network function declines over the lifespan, suggesting that older adults may show impairments in social-cognitive tasks that require mentalizing. Older and younger human adults were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging while performing three different social-cognitive tasks. Across three mentalizing paradigms, younger and older adults viewed animated shapes in brief social vignettes, stories about a person's moral actions, and false belief stories. Consistent with predictions, older adults responded less accurately to stories about others' false beliefs and made less use of actors' intentions to judge the moral permissibility of behavior. These impairments in performance during social-cognitive tasks were accompanied by age-related decreases across all three paradigms in the BOLD response of a single brain region, the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. These findings suggest specific task-independent age-related deficits in mentalizing that are localizable to changes in circumscribed subregions of the default network.