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Perspective taking in Korsakoff's syndrome: the role of executive functioning and task complexity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 June 2014

Joukje M. Oosterman
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Maartje de Goede
TNO Defence, Security and Safety, Business Unit Human Factors, Soesterberg, The Netherlands
Arie J. Wester
Korsakoff Clinic, Vincent van Gogh Institute for Psychiatry, Venray, The Netherlands
Martine J. E. van Zandvoort
Department of Experimental Psychology, Helmholtz Instituut, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands Department of Neurology, University Medical Center, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Roy P. C. Kessels
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands


Oosterman JM, de Goede M, Wester AJ, van Zandvoort MJE, Kessels RPC. Perspective taking in Korsakoff's syndrome: the role of executive functioning and task complexity.

Objective: The ability to make inferences about knowledge, thoughts and feelings of others, i.e. perspective taking, is a key element of social cognition. Clinical observations indicate that Korsakoff patients may have impairments in social cognition, but studies are scarce. Also, executive dysfunction is present in Korsakoff patients, which may hamper perspective taking directly.

Methods: Twenty-three patients with Korsakoff's syndrome and 15 healthy matched controls were examined on a story comprehension task, in which inferences had to be made that either relied on perspective taking or not. The effects of task complexity were taken into account and executive function was assessed using an extensive neuropsychological test battery.

Results: The performance of Korsakoff patients declined with increasing complexity, but the pattern of decline for perspective-taking and non-perspective-taking stories was similar compared to that of the control group. Furthermore, the performance decline with increasing task complexity was directly related to the overall decline in executive functioning.

Conclusion: Executive dysfunction, not deficits in perspective taking per se, appears to underlie difficulties in story comprehension in patients with Korsakoff's syndrome.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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