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Dissociative seizures (DS) are brief episodes of disrupted awareness and behavioural control that may resemble epileptic seizures. They are thought to arise in the context of impaired emotion processing and disinhibition. In a multi-perspective neuropsychological study, we aim to assess specific metacognitive traits and behavioural features involved in the affective and cognitive underpinnings of DS (emotion recognition and regulation, inhibition, interoception and sense of agency).
Twenty prospectively recruited patients with video-EEG-confirmed DS and 20 healthy controls underwent comprehensive neuropsychological and psychiatric testing using validated questionnaires and structured interviews. Behavioural experimental data was obtained using a custom-made emotional go/no-go task, a digital Libet clock setup and a heartbeat counting paradigm.
Emotion recognition, as quantified in the emotional go/no-go task, was impaired in the DS group, and correlated with alexithymic traits. Behavioural inhibition, especially under conditions that would require emotion regulation, was also reduced in the emotional go/no-go task compared to controls and was correlated with neuropsychometric measures of emotion regulation. Data from the Libet clock experiment suggested impaired behavioural awareness in DS patients. No evidence of impaired interoceptive awareness was found in the heartbeat counting task.
These results represent comprehensive experimental evidence for alterations in emotional and behavioural awareness and control in patients with DS that yield empirical evidence for current psychopathological models. Our findings offer a more detailed understanding of key pathogenic factors in DS and provide theoretical support for recently developed cognitive-behavioural therapies for DS.
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