Changes of Meta-Representational Skills in Ageing: First Empirical Evidence on the Relation between Metalinguistic Competence and Attributions of Mental States
Background. The present paper focuses on meta-representational changes occurring in ageing by studying the decline in Definitional Competence, an ability so far little studied in this period of life.
Purpose. The paper hypothesises a relation between Theory of Mind (ToM) and Definitional Competence, in a view that posits the former as a preparatory and facilitating competence for a more complex linguistic production, that is lexicographic definition. The effects of levels of education on the decline in ageing for Definitional Competence and ToM are also investigated.
Methods. We recruited 24 adults (age range 21–55), 25 young-old adults (age range 60–70) and 25 old-old adults (age range 71–85) and administered them the Eyes task to measure ToM and the Co.De. Scale to assess Definitional Competence.
Results. Results suggest that Definitional Competence declines earlier on than ToM, mirroring the well-known process according to which in semantic knowledge, during ageing, taxonomic relations are lost before thematic ones. Our results also show that better levels of education are associated with better performance in both our key constructs and that ToM predicts Definitional Competence, in line with our expectations.
Conclusion. The paper offers one of the first systematic studies on the changes in Definitional Competence during the last phase of life and it provides theoretical insights into the relation between ToM and Definitional Competence in ageing. The paper is informative for future interventions aimed at enhancing linguistic and metalinguistic skills in ageing through the preservation of better levels of awareness and the assumption of a decentralised perspective in interpersonal communication.
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