Social cognition plays a key role in everyday lives of people with MS

May 05, 2021
Multiple sclerosis researchers found that changes over time in social cognition may play a crucial role in the quality of life of people with MS. The study shows people with relapsing-remitting MS performed significantly lower in several social cognition areas, despite being classified as "cognitively normal."

Recent research has shown that social cognition deficits may affect people with MS who otherwise have no other cognitive impairments. Social cognition, which is required to understand and process the emotions of others, is an extremely important skill set for forming successful relationships with others, and deficits in this area can significantly affect a person's quality of life.

Previous studies investigating the prevalence of social cognition impairment among people with MS suggested impairment tracked with symptoms such as cognitive fatigue. More research was needed to clarify these results and determine if changes to the area of the brain called the amygdala – known to be linked to emotions – correlated with social cognition. Moreover, no study had investigated the social cognition performance in people with MS with a longitudinal perspective, meaning that no data existed on the evolution of social cognition deficits over time.

In this three-year study, MS researchers at the Kessler Foundation conducted a longitudinal investigation of the evolution of social cognition deficits and amygdala damage in a group of 26 cognitively-normal people with relapsing-remitting MS. They analyzed the link between social cognition and several domains related to psychological well-being. Concurrently, they investigated the evolution of amygdala lesion burden and atrophy and their association with social cognition performance.

To gather data, the team used a battery of neuropsychological tests; social cognition tasks to assess theory of mind, facial emotion recognition, and empathy; and 3T-MRI to analyze structural amygdala damage. They then compared these findings to baseline data collected from participants three years prior.

The results confirmed that, despite being classified as cognitively normal, people with relapsing-remitting MS showed a significantly lower performance in several social cognition domains as compared to a matched group of healthy controls. These domains include facial emotion recognition, in particular fear and anger, as well as empathy. Longitudinal changes in the social cognition domain were also found to be linked to psychological outcomes of daily living, such as depression, anxiety, fatigue, and social functioning quality of life.

The findings were published in the journal Diagnostics.

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