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The promise of precision medicine for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) hinges on developing neuroscience-informed individualized interventions. Taking an important step in this direction, we investigated neuroplasticity in response to an ecologically-valid, computer-based social-cognitive training (SCOTT).
In an active control group design, 48 adults with ASD were randomly assigned to a 3-month SCOTT or non-social computer training. Participants completed behavioral tasks, a functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging session before and after the training period.
The SCOTT group showed social-cognitive improvements on close and distant generalization tasks. The improvements scaled with reductions in functional activity and increases in cortical thickness in prefrontal regions.
In sum, we provide evidence for the sensitivity of neuroscientific methods to reflect training-induced social-cognitive improvements in adults with ASD. These results encourage the use of neuroimaging data to describe and quantify treatment-related changes more broadly.
Moral reasoning and decision making help guide behavior and facilitate interpersonal relationships. Accounts of morality that position commonsense psychology as the foundation of moral development, (i.e., rationalist theories) have dominated research in morality in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Given the well-documented differences in commonsense psychology among autistic individuals, researchers have investigated whether the development and execution of moral judgement and reasoning differs in this population compared with neurotypical individuals. In light of the diverse findings of investigations of moral development and reasoning in ASD, a summation and critical evaluation of the literature could help make sense of what is known about this important social-cognitive skill in ASD. To that end, we conducted a systematic review of the literature investigating moral decision making among autistic children and adults. Our search identified 29 studies. In this review, we synthesize the research in the area and provide suggestions for future research. Such research could include the application of an alternative theoretical framework to studying morality in autism spectrum disorder that does not assume a deficits-based perspective.
Older adults presenting with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) have a higher risk of developing dementia and also demonstrate impairments in social cognition. This study sought to establish whether in people with MCI, poorer theory of mind (ToM) was associated with volumetric changes in the amygdala and hippocampus, as well as early changes in behaviour.
One hundred and fourteen people with MCI and fifty-two older adult controls completed the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), while close informants (e.g., spouse/family member/friend/carer) described any current behavioural changes using the Revised Cambridge Behavioural Inventory (CBI-R). A subsample of participants completed structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
The MCI group showed poorer performance on all neuropsychological tests administered, and moderate reductions on the RMET compared to the control group (d = .44), with greater reduction observed in those with amnestic compared to non-amnestic MCI (p = .03). While a robust correlation was identified between poorer RMET performance and smaller hippocampal volume in the control group (ρ = .53, p = .01), this relationship was not apparent in the MCI group (ρ = .21, p = .11). In the MCI group, poorer RMET performance was associated with poorer everyday skills (ρ = −.26, p = .01) assessed by the CBI-R.
Our findings cross-validate previous reports that social cognitive deficits in ToM are a feature of MCI and also suggest that disruptions to broader neural networks are likely to be implicated. Furthermore, ToM deficits in MCI are associated with a decline in everyday skills such as writing or paying bills.
Chapter 2 provides a background on the use of network models in different scientific disciplines and introduces the general architecture of the grammar network. The proposed network model has two levels of analysis: a lower level, at which linguistic signs, notably constructions, are defined by three different types of associations, or relations: (1) symbolic relations connecting form and meaning, (2) sequential relations connecting linguistic elements in sequence and (3) taxonomic relations connecting linguistic patterns at different levels of abstraction. Together the three relations define the basic units of speech, i.e., lexemes and constructions. Every unit constitutes a (local) network shaped by language use, but these networks also serve as nodes of a higher-level network that involves three other types of relations: (4) lexical relations connecting lexemes with similar or contrastive forms and meanings, (5) constructional relations connecting constructions at the same level of abstraction and (6) and filler-slot relations connecting particular lexemes with constructional schemas.
There is general consensus among usage-based researchers that the development of linguistic structure is driven by domain-general processes, but these processes are not always explained in light of psychological research on cognition. Chapter 3 provides a systematic overview of the various cognitive processes that are involved in language use and explains, in general terms, how grammar, usage and cognition are related. It is argued that language use involves a unconscious decision-making process that is determined by cognitive factors from three general domains: (1) social cognition (e.g., joint attention, common ground), (2) conceptualization (e.g., figure-ground, metaphor) and (3) memory-related processes (e.g., automatization, priming). The various processes can reinforce each other but can also be in competition. Of particular importance is the competition between other-oriented processes of social cognition and self-oriented processes of memory and activation spreading. One general advantage of the network approach is that it provides a natural explanation for the effects of frequency on usage and development.
Aggressive and violent behavior, including both verbal and physical aggression, have considerable adverse consequences for people with schizophrenia. There are several potential causes of violent behavior on the part of people with severe mental illness, which include intellectual impairments, cognitive and social-cognitive deficits, skills deficits, substance abuse, antisocial features, and specific psychotic features. This review explores the interventions that have been tested to this date. Computerized Cognitive Training (CCT) or Computerized Social-Cognitive Training (CSCT) have been associated with reductions in violence. Combined CCT and CSCT have been found to improve social cognition and neurocognition, as well as everyday functioning when combined with rehabilitation interventions. These interventions have been shown to reduce violence in schizophrenia patients across multiple environments, including forensic settings. The reductions in violence and aggression have manifested in various ways, including reduced violent thinking and behavior, reduced physical and violent assaults, and reduced disruptive and aggressive behaviors. Effects of cognitive training may be associated with improvements in problem-solving and the increased ability to deploy alternative strategies. The effect of social cognition training on violence reduction appears to be direct, with improvements in violence related to the extent of improvement in social cognition. There are still remaining issues to be addressed in the use of CCT and CSCT, and the benefits should not be overstated; however, the results of these interventions are very promising.
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.
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.
Objective: Individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI) can experience social isolation, which is damaging to well-being and counterproductive to successful rehabilitation. It has been proposed that social cognitive deficits that commonly result from TBI may contribute to weakened social integration. However, the consequences of specific social cognitive deficits in TBI are still being delineated. The current work sought to better characterize the relationship between community integration and facial affect recognition (FAR) in TBI. Participants and Methods: A total of 27 participants with moderate to severe TBI and 30 healthy controls (HCs) completed two tests of FAR, which employed either static photographic stimuli or dynamic video stimuli (The Awareness of Social Inference Test). The Community Integration Questionnaire was also administered to participants. Results: Participants with TBI were significantly impaired on both the static and dynamic FAR measures, yet the deficits were most pronounced within the dynamic task. Furthermore, participants with TBI reported lower community integration compared with HCs. FAR was positively associated with community integration in both groups, such that participants with proficient affect recognition skills were better integrated into their communities. Conclusions: FAR deficits may contribute to the lack of community integration often observed in TBI; thus, interventions designed to improve FAR may be beneficial to this population’s ability to successfully reintegrate into society.
Objectives: Patients with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) have difficulty in recognising facial emotions, and there is evidence to suggest that there is a specific deficit in identifying negative facial emotions, such as sadness and anger. Methods: This study investigated facial emotion recognition in 19 individuals with BDD compared with 21 healthy control participants who completed a facial emotion recognition task, in which they were asked to identify emotional expressions portrayed in neutral, happy, sad, fearful, or angry faces. Results: Compared to the healthy control participants, the BDD patients were generally less accurate in identifying all facial emotions but showed specific deficits for negative emotions. The BDD group made significantly more errors when identifying neutral, angry, and sad faces than healthy controls; and were significantly slower at identifying neutral, angry, and happy faces. Conclusions: These findings add to previous face-processing literature in BDD, suggesting deficits in identifying negative facial emotions. There are treatment implications as future interventions would do well to target such deficits.
Social attention ability is crucial for human adaptive social behaviors and interpersonal communications, and the malfunction of which has been implicated in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a highly genetic neurodevelopmental disorder marked by striking social deficits.
Using a classical twin design, the current study investigated the genetic contribution to individual variation in social and non-social attention abilities, and further probed their potential genetic linkage. Moreover, individual autistic traits were further measured in an independent group of non-twin participants to examine the hypothetical link between the core social attention ability and ASD.
We found reliable genetic influences on the social attentional effects induced by two distinct cues (eye gaze and walking direction), with 91% of their covariance accounted for by common genetic effects. However, no evidence of heritability or shared genetic effects was observed for the attentional effect directed by a non-social cue (i.e. arrow direction) and its correlation with the social attention ability. Remarkably, one's autistic traits could well predict his/her heritable core social attention ability extracted from the conventional social attentional effect.
These findings together suggest that human social attention ability is supported by unique genetic mechanisms that can be shared across different social, but not non-social, processing. Moreover, they also encourage the identification of ‘social attention genes’ and highlight the critical role of the core human social attention ability in seeking the endophenotypes of social cognitive disorders including ASD.
A growing body of research has shown that two domains of cognition, neurocognition and social cognition, predict different domains of real-world outcomes in people with schizophrenia. Social cognition has been shown to predict social outcomes but not non-social outcomes (e.g. living independently), and neurocognition provides minimal prediction of social outcomes (e.g. interpersonal relationships). The differing predictive value of neurocognition and social cognition has led to an exploration of potential factors that interact with cognition to influence everyday outcomes. Functional skills, negative symptoms, and self-assessment have shown particularly promising relationships with cognitive ability. Several consensus studies have pinpointed valid performance-based assessments. High-contact informant ratings have additionally been shown to be highly accurate. The emerging understanding of divergent patterns of predicting outcomes and reliable assessments present an opportunity to improve treatment targets and real-world outcomes for individuals with schizophrenia. In particular, a recently defined component of metacognition has shown particular promise. Introspective accuracy (IA) addresses how well individuals evaluate their own abilities. Emerging research has found that IA of neurocognitive ability better predicts everyday functional deficits than scores on performance-based measures of neurocognitive skills and has found that IA of social cognition accounts unique variance in real world disability above social cognitive abilities. Intriguingly, IA of neurocognition appears to preferentially predict non-social outcomes while IA of social cognition predicts social outcomes.
The ability to understand others’ mental states carries profound consequences for mental and physical health, making efforts at validly and reliably assessing mental state understanding (MSU) of utmost importance. However, the most widely used and current NIMH-recommended task for assessing MSU – the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Task (RMET) – suffers from potential assessment issues, including reliance on a participant's vocabulary/intelligence and the use of culturally biased stimuli. Here, we evaluate the impact of demographic and sociocultural factors (age, gender, education, ethnicity, race) on the RMET and other social and non-social cognitive tasks in an effort to determine the extent to which the RMET may be unduly influenced by participant characteristics.
In total, 40 248 international, native-/primarily English-speaking participants between the ages of 10 and 70 completed one of five measures on TestMyBrain.org: RMET, a shortened version of RMET, a multiracial emotion identification task, an emotion discrimination task, and a non-social/non-verbal processing speed task (digit symbol matching).
Contrary to other tasks, performance on the RMET increased across the lifespan. Education, race, and ethnicity explained more variance in RMET performance than the other tasks, and differences between levels of education, race, and ethnicity were more pronounced for the RMET than the other tasks such that more highly educated, non-Hispanic, and White/Caucasian individuals performed best.
These data suggest that the RMET may be unduly influenced by social class and culture, posing a serious challenge to assessing MSU in clinical populations given shared variance between social status and psychiatric illness.
Cognitive impairments in substance use disorders have been extensively researched, especially since the advent of cognitive and computational neuroscience and neuroimaging methods in the last 20 years. Conceptually, altered cognitive function can be viewed as a hallmark feature of substance use disorders, with documented alterations in the well-known “executive” domains of attention, inhibition/regulation, working memory, and decision-making. Poor cognitive (sometimes referred to as “top-down”) regulation of downstream motivational processes—whether appetitive (reward, incentive salience) or aversive (stress, negative affect)—is recognized as a fundamental impairment in addiction and a potentially important target for intervention. As addressed in this special issue, cognitive impairment is a transdiagnostic domain; thus, advances in the characterization and treatment of cognitive dysfunction in substance use disorders could have benefit across multiple psychiatric disorders. Toward this general goal, we summarize current findings in the abovementioned cognitive domains of substance use disorders, while suggesting a potentially useful expansion to include processes that both precede (precognition) and supersede (social cognition) what is usually thought of as strictly cognition. These additional two areas have received relatively less attention but phenomenologically and otherwise are important features of substance use disorders. The review concludes with suggestions for research and potential therapeutic targeting of both the familiar and this more comprehensive version of cognitive domains related to substance use disorders.
Williams syndrome (WS) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that results from a heterozygous microdeletion on chromosome 7q11.23. Most of the time, the affected region contains ~1.5 Mb of sequence encoding approximately 24 genes. Some 5–8% of patients with WS have a deletion exceeding 1.8 Mb, thereby affecting two additional genes, including GTF2IRD2. Currently, there is no consensus regarding the implications of GTF2IRD2 loss for the neuropsychological phenotype of WS patients. Objectives: The present study aimed to identify the role of GTF2IRD2 in the cognitive, behavioral, and adaptive profile of WS patients. Methods: Twelve patients diagnosed with WS participated, four with GTF2IRD2 deletion (atypical WS group), and eight without this deletion (typical WS group). The age range of both groups was 7–18 years old. Each patient’s 7q11.23 deletion scope was determined by chromosomal microarray analysis. Cognitive, behavioral, and adaptive abilities were assessed with a battery of neuropsychological tests. Results: Compared with the typical WS group, the atypical WS patients with GTF2IRD2 deletion had more impaired visuospatial abilities and more significant behavioral problems, mainly related to the construct of social cognition. Conclusions: These findings provide new evidence regarding the influence of the GTF2IRD2 gene on the severity of behavioral symptoms of WS related to social cognition and certain visuospatial abilities. (JINS, 2018, 24, 896–904)
Individuals with schizophrenia have deficits in social cognition that are associated with poor functional outcome. Unfortunately, current treatments result in only modest improvement in social cognition. Oxytocin, a neuropeptide with pro-social effects, has significant benefits for social cognition in the general population. However, studies examining the efficacy of oxytocin in schizophrenia have yielded inconsistent results. One reason for inconsistency may be that oxytocin has typically not been combined with psychosocial interventions. It may be necessary for individuals with schizophrenia to receive concurrent psychosocial treatment while taking oxytocin to have the context needed to make gains in social cognitive skills.
The current study tested this hypothesis in a 24-week (48 session) double-blind, placebo-controlled trial that combined oxytocin and Cognitive-Behavioral Social Skills Training (CBSST), which included elements from Social Cognition and Interaction Training (SCIT). Participants included 62 outpatients diagnosed with schizophrenia (placebo n = 31; oxytocin n = 31) who received 36 IU BID, with supervised administration 45 min prior to sessions on CBSST group therapy days. Participants completed a battery of measures administered at 0, 12, and 24 weeks that assessed social cognition.
CBSST generally failed to enhance social cognition from baseline to end of study, and there was no additive benefit of oxytocin beyond the effects of CBSST alone.
Findings suggest that combined CBSST and oxytocin had minimal benefit for social cognition, adding to the growing literature indicating null effects of oxytocin in multi-dose trials. Methodological and biological factors may contribute to inconsistent results across studies.
Poor social cognition is prevalent in schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Some authors argue that these effects are symptom-specific and that socio-cognitive difficulties (e.g. theory of mind) are strongly associated with thought disorder and symptoms of disorganisation.
The current review tests the strength of this association.
We meta-analysed studies published between 1980 and 2016 that tested the association between social cognition and these symptoms in schizophrenia spectrum disorders.
Our search (PsycINFO, MEDLINE and Web of Science) identified 123 studies (N = 9107). Overall effect size as r = −0.313, indicating a moderate association between symptoms and social cognition. Subanalyses yielded a moderate association between symptoms and theory of mind (r = −0.349) and emotion recognition (r = −0.334), but smaller effect sizes for social perception (r = −0.188), emotion regulation (r = −0.169) and attributional biases (r = −0.143).
The association is interpreted within models of communication that highlight the importance of mentalisation and processing of partner-specific cues in conversational alignment and grounding.
Social cognition tasks, such as identification of emotions, can contribute to the diagnosis of neuropsychiatric disorders. The wide use of Facial Emotion Recognition Test (FERT) is hampered by the absence of normative dataset and by the limited understanding of how demographic factors such as age, education, gender, and cultural background may influence the performance on the test.
We analyzed the influence of these variables in the performance in the FERT from the short version of the Social and Emotional Assessment. This task is composed by 35 pictures with 7 different emotions presented 5 times each. Cognitively healthy Brazilian participants (n = 203; 109 females and 94 males) underwent the FERT. We compared the performance of participants across gender, age, and educational subgroups. We also compared the performance of Brazilians with a group of French subjects (n = 60) matched for gender, age, and educational level.
There was no gender difference regarding the performance on total score and in each emotion subscore in the Brazilian sample. We found a significant effect of aging and schooling on the performance on the FERT, with younger and more educated subjects having higher scores. Brazilian and French participants did not differ in the FERT and its subscores. Normative data for employing the FERT in Brazilian population is presented.
Data here provided may contribute to the interpretation of the results of FERT in different cultural contexts and highlight the common bias that should be corrected in the future tasks to be developed.
Schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are currently conceptualized as distinct disorders. However, the relationship between these two disorders has been revisited in recent years due to evidence that they share phenotypic and genotypic expressions. This study aimed to identify ASD traits in patients with schizophrenia, and to define their demographic, psychopathological, cognitive and functional correlates.
Seventy-five schizophrenia patients (20 females, mean age 42 ± 12) were evaluated with the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R). Participants were also assessed with clinical, neuropsychological, and psychosocial functioning measures.
Of the 75 patients, 47 were negative to all the autism scales administered (ADOS-TOT-NEG), 21 patients were positive to the ADOS Language sub-domain (ADOS-L-POS), 21 patients were positive to the ADOS Reciprocal Social Interaction (RSI) sub-domain (ADOS-RSI-POS), 14 patients were positive to the ADOS Total scale (ADOS-TOT-POS), and nine patients were positive to the ADI-R scale (ADI-R-POS). Demographic (duration of illness), psychopathological (negative symptoms and general psychopathology), and cognitive (working memory and processing speed) differences emerged between schizophrenic patients with and without ASD traits, while no differences in psychosocial functioning were detected. Results of this study indicate the existence, in a sample of patients with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, of a distinct group of subjects with ASD features, characterized by specific symptomatological and cognitive profile.
These findings may contribute to better characterize patients with schizophrenia in order to develop new procedures and therapeutic tools in a more personalized perspective.
Objectives: Cognitive reserve (CR), defined as individual differences in the ability to cope with brain damage, seem to be associated to the several psychopathological features in psychiatric patients, such as the functional outcome. This study aims to identify different profiles of CR by combining intelligence quotient (IQ) and premorbid functioning, two measures independently associated to CR in previous works, as well as to explore CR effect on both Theory of Mind (ToM) baseline performance and improvement after socio-cognitive trainings. Methods: Sixty patients with chronic schizophrenia underwent a socio-cognitive rehabilitation. All patients were assessed for psychopathology, neurocognition, and ToM at baseline and post-treatment. CR profiles were explored with K-means cluster analysis, while differences between clusters in both baseline assessments and post-treatment ToM improvement, were analyzed by means of analysis of variance and repeated measures analysis of covariance. Results: The analysis revealed three CR profiles, respectively, characterized by low early premorbid functioning and mild intellectual impairment, average/high early premorbid functioning trend with moderate intellectual impairment and good early premorbid functioning associated to IQ within normal limits. Analyses showed a significant effect of CR on both baseline ToM performance and treatment outcome: patients with higher CR reached significantly better ToM scores. Conclusions: These results underline the clinical relevance of defining CR profiles of patients to customize trainings: subjects with a lower CR may benefit from more intensive programs. A deeper knowledge about CR may considerably increase our understanding of individual differences and thus potentiate treatment outcome. (JINS, 2018, 24, 563–571)
Children categorize native-accented speakers as local and non-native-accented speakers as foreign, suggesting they use accent (i.e., phonological proficiency) to determine social group membership. However, it is unclear if accent is the strongest – and only – group marker children use to determine social group membership, or whether other aspects of language, such as syntax and semantics, are also important markers. To test this, five- to eight-year-old monolingual English-speaking children were asked to judge whether individuals who varied in phonological, syntactic, and semantic proficiency were local or foreign. Children were also asked which individual they wanted as a friend. Children prioritized phonological proficiency over syntactic and semantic proficiency to determine social group membership. However, with age, children begin to shift toward prioritizing syntactic and semantic proficiency over phonological proficiency in their friendship decisions, suggesting that the capacity to integrate different aspects of a speaker's linguistic proficiency changes with development.