October 11, 2018

Theory of Mind Impairment in Focal Versus Generalized Epilepsy

Theory of Mind (ToM) is a critical component of social cognition, and thus, its impairment may adversely affect social functioning and quality of life. Recent evidence has suggested that it is impaired in epilepsy. What is not clear, however, is whether it is related to particular types of epilepsy or other factors.

Researchers undertook this study to explore ToM in patients with focal versus those with generalized epilepsy, the particular pattern of ToM deficits, and the potential influence of antiepileptic medication load. The sample included 149 adults: 79 patients with epilepsy (34 with generalized epilepsy and 45 with focal epilepsy) and 70 healthy controls.

Theory of Mind tasks included:

  1. comprehension of hinting
  2. comprehension of sarcasm and metaphor
  3. comprehension of false beliefs and deception
  4. recognition of faux pas
  5. a visual ToM task in cartoon form

We found significant ToM impairment in the group with focal epilepsy relative to the performance of both the healthy group and the group with generalized epilepsy on all tasks, with the exception of faux pas, on which the group with generalized epilepsy also performed more poorly than the healthy group. Additionally, early age at seizure onset, but not antiepileptic drug (AED) load, was associated with ToM performance.

These findings suggest that focal temporal and frontal lobe, but not generalized, epilepsies were associated with impaired theory of mind. This may reflect the neuroanatomical abnormalities in the relevant neuronal networks and may have implications for differential cognitive-behavioral interventions based on epilepsy type.

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