Does interference between self and other perspectives in theory of mind tasks reflect a common underlying process? Evidence from individual differences in theory of mind and inhibitory control

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Adam W. Qureshi
  • Rebecca L. Monk
  • Dana Samson
  • Ian A. Apperly

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Edge Hill University
  • Université Catholique de Louvain


Theory of mind (ToM), the ability to understand that other agents have different beliefs, desires, and knowledge than oneself, has been extensively researched. Theory of mind tasks involve participants dealing with interference between their self-perspective and another agent’s perspective, and this interference has been related to executive function, particularly to inhibitory control. This study assessed whether there are individual differences in self–other interference, and whether these effects are due to individual differences in executive function. A total of 142 participants completed two ToM (the director task and a Level 1 visual perspective-taking task), which both involve self–other interference, and a battery of inhibitory control tasks. The relationships between the tasks were examined using path analysis. Results showed that the self–other interference effects of the two ToM tasks were dissociable, with individual differences in performance on the ToM tasks being unrelated and performance in each predicted by different inhibitory control tasks. We suggest that self–other differences are part of the nature of ToM tasks, but self–other interference is not a unitary construct. Instead, self–other differences result in interference effects in various ways and at different stages of processing, and these effects may not be a major limiting step for adults’ performance on typical ToM tasks. Further work is needed to assess other factors that may limit adults’ ToM performance and hence explain individual differences in social ability.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)178-190
Number of pages13
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020


  • Executive function, Path analysis, Self–other interference, Theory of mind