Exploring the Relations Between Theory of Mind, Anxiety, and Social Support in College Students




Ortega, Andrea

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Theory of mind, or understanding that others have thoughts and feelings that can be different from one’s own, is an important social ability. Past research in young adolescents (aged 11-12) suggests that better theory of mind can lead to lower social anxiety, thus supporting friendship formation (Ronchi et al., 2020). An open question is whether this model extends to young adults in college environments, a time that often involves expanding social circles and more independent socializing. Using a large sample of Texas State students (N = 368), this study explored whether social anxiety mediated the relationship between theory of mind and social support. Respondents filled out a questionnaire that included well-established and validated measures of theory of mind (Reading the Mind in the Eyes; Baron-Cohen et al., 2001), social support (Social Support Questionnaire; Sarason et al., 1983), and social anxiety (Social Interaction Anxiety Scale; Mattick & Clarke, 1998). All measures produced a wide range of responses, but theory of mind was not related to social anxiety or social support. Those with higher levels of social anxiety reported lower satisfaction with social support but not a lower number of supportive social partners. These results suggest that theory of mind, specifically in young adults, is minimally related to social outcomes. One possibility is that variability in theory of mind is more meaningful in determining social outcomes at younger ages. Another possibility is that our theory of mind measure was inadequate to capture the complexity of theory of mind in young adults. Future studies should examine these questions longitudinally using a wider variety of measures and should consider generation-specific socialization effects. Overall, understanding links between social cognition and social support in young adulthood could promote positive social outcomes.



theory of mind, social anxiety, social support, college students, social cognition


Ortega, K. (2023). Exploring the relations between theory of mind, anxiety, and social support in college students. Honors College, Texas State University.


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