Researchers explore social cognitive deficits in progressive multiple sclerosis

Summary: Study reports those with progressive multiple sclerosis were more likely to experience deficits with Cognitive Theory of Mind.

Source: Kessler Foundation

A recent study by Kessler Foundation researchers provided new findings about the nature of social cognitive deficits in the population with progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). The article, “Cognitive but Not Affective Theory of Mind Deficits in Progressive MS”, was published on June 10, 2019 by the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

The authors are Katie Lancaster, PhD, Eric M. Stone, and Helen Genova, PhD, of Kessler Foundation.

The researchers conducted tests of social cognition in two groups: 15 individuals with progressive MS and 15 healthy controls. They used Virtual Assessment of Mentalising Ability (VAMA) to measure Theory of Mind (ToM) in both groups. This was the first application of VAMA for research in the subtype of progressive MS. Results showed poorer performance on VAMA in the MS group and identified a specific deficit in the cognitive ToM subtest, which measures how well individuals can reason about the thoughts and intentions of others. In contrast, they found no differences between the groups on the affective ToM subtest, which measures how well individuals can reason about the emotions of others.

Deficits in social cognition that impair quality of life are associated with all types of MS, but appear to be more pronounced in progressive MS. Developing effective interventions depends upon expanding our knowledge of social cognitive deficits in progressive MS. Much of the research, however, has been conducted in relapsing-remitting MS.

This shows two heads and question marks

Deficits in social cognition that impair quality of life are associated with all types of MS, but appear to be more pronounced in progressive MS. The image is in the public domain.

“This study is an important first step toward a better understanding of cognitive dysfunction in individuals with progressive MS,” said Dr. Genova, the Foundation’s assistant director of the Center for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research. “By examining both the cognitive and affective components of Theory of Mind, we found evidence for differential effects of progressive MS, similar to the effects reported for relapsing-remitting MS,” she affirmed, “including the apparent sparing of affective ability. Our findings indicate that VAMA will be an important tool for developing interventions that help individuals maintain the skills needed to function in everyday life.”

Dr. Lancaster is the Hearst Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for Traumatic Brain Injury Research at Kessler Foundation.

Funding: This research was supported by the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers.

About this neuroscience research article

Source:
Kessler Foundation
Media Contacts:
Carolann Murphy – Kessler Foundation
Image Source:
The image is in the public domain.

Original Research: Open access
“Cognitive but Not Affective Theory of Mind Deficits in Progressive MS”. Katie Lancaster, Eric M. Stone, and Helen M. Genova .
Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society. doi:10.1017/S1355617719000584

Abstract

Cognitive but Not Affective Theory of Mind Deficits in Progressive MS

Objective:
Social cognitive deficits are an important consequence of multiple sclerosis (MS), yet our understanding of how these deficits manifest in progressive MS is currently limited. To this end, we examined theory of mind (ToM) ability in a sample of individuals with progressive MS using an ecologically valid virtual assessment tool that allows for delineation of cognitive ToM (inferring thoughts and intentions of others) from affective ToM (inferring emotions of others).

Methods & Results:
We compared 15 individuals with progressive MS and 15 healthy controls on their ToM ability using the Virtual Assessment of Mentalising Ability. We found that, relative to healthy controls, participants with progressive MS were impaired in cognitive ToM, but not in affective ToM. Furthermore, we found that the MS participants’ deficits in cognitive ToM were mediated by their general cognitive ability such that poor cognitive ToM ability in MS was explained by poor performance on tests of memory and processing speed.

Conclusions:
Our findings demonstrate that ToM deficits in progressive MS may be limited to cognitive ToM, while affective ToM is conserved. This could be attributable to the MS-related deficits in general cognitive ability, which appear to negatively affect only the cognitive component of ToM.

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