Blog Archives

The Specificity of Age-Related Decline in Interpretation of Emotion Cues From Prosody

Older adults are not as good as younger adults at decoding prosodic emotions. We sought to determine the specificity of this finding. Performance of older and younger adults was compared on a prosodic emotion task, a “pure” prosodic emotion task, a linguistic prosody task, and a “pure” linguistic prosody task. Older adults were less accurate at interpreting prosodic emotion cues and nonemotional contours, concurrent semantic processing worsened interpretation, and performance was further degraded when identifying negative emotions and questions. Older adults display a pervasive problem interpreting prosodic cues, but further study is required to clarify the stage at which performance declines.

from Psychology and Aging


Theory of Mind Training in Children with Autism: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) participate in social skills or Theory of Mind (ToM) treatments. However, few studies have shown evidence for their effectiveness. The current study used a randomized controlled design to test the effectiveness of a 16-week ToM treatment in 8–13 year old children with ASD and normal IQs (n = 40). The results showed that, compared to controls, the treated children with ASD improved in their conceptual ToM skills, but their elementary understanding, self reported empathic skills or parent reported social behaviour did not improve. Despite the effects on conceptual understanding, the current study does not indicate strong evidence for the effectiveness of a ToM treatment on the daily life mindreading skills.

from the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

Cognitive and behavioural deficits associated with the orbitomedial prefrontal cortex in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive disease affecting motor neurons, may variably affect cognition and behaviour. We tested the hypothesis that functions associated with orbitomedial prefrontal cortex are affected by evaluating the behavioural and cognitive performance of 18 participants with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis without dementia and 18 healthy, matched controls. We measured Theory of Mind (Faux Pas Task), emotional prosody recognition (Aprosodia Battery), reversal of behaviour in response to changes in reward (Probabilistic Reversal Learning Task), decision making without risk (Holiday Apartment Task) and aberrant behaviour (Neuropsychiatric Inventory). We also assessed dorsolateral prefrontal function, using verbal and written fluency and planning (One-touch Stockings of Cambridge), to determine whether impairments in tasks sensitive to these two prefrontal regions co-occur. The patient group was significantly impaired at identifying social faux pas, recognizing emotions and decision-making, indicating mild, but consistent impairment on most measures sensitive to orbitomedial prefrontal cortex. Significant levels of aberrant behaviour were present in 50% of patients. Patients were also impaired on verbal fluency and planning. Individual subject analyses involved computing classical dissociations between tasks sensitive to different prefrontal regions. These revealed heterogeneous patterns of impaired and spared cognitive abilities: 33% of participants had classical dissociations involving orbitomedial prefrontal tasks, 17% had classical dissociations involving dorsolateral prefrontal tasks, 22% had classical dissociations between tasks of both regions, and 28% had no classical dissociations. These data indicate subtle changes in behaviour, emotional processing, decision-making and altered social awareness, associated with orbitomedial prefrontal cortex, may be present in a significant proportion of individuals with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis without dementia, some with no signs of dysfunction in tasks sensitive to other regions of prefrontal cortex. This demonstration of variability in cognitive integrity supports previous research indicating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a heterogeneous disease.

from Brain

Exploring theory of mind after severe traumatic brain injury

Previous studies have reported a dissociation between social behavioral impairments after severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) and relatively preserved performances in traditional tasks that investigate cognitive abilities. Theory of mind (ToM) refers to the ability to make inferences about other’s mental states and use them to understand and predict others’ behavior. We tested a group of 15 patients with severe TBI and 15 matched controls on a series of four verbal and non-verbal ToM tasks: the faux pas test, the first-order and second-order false belief task, the character intention task and the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test. Participants with severe TBI were also compared to controls on non-ToM inference tasks of indirect speech act from the Montreal Evaluation of Communication (M.E.C.) Protocol and empathy (Davis Interpersonal Reactivity Index – I.R.I.) and tests for executive functions. Subjects with TBI performed worse than control subjects on all ToM tasks, except the first-order false belief task. The findings converge with previous evidence for ToM deficit in TBI and dissociation between ToM and executive functions. We show that ToM deficit is probably distinct from other aspects of social cognition like empathy and pragmatic communication skills.

from Cortex

Autism and Oxytocin: New Developments in Translational Approaches to Therapeutics

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by dysfunction in three core symptom domains: speech and communication deficits, repetitive or compulsive behaviors with restricted interests, and social impairment. The neuropeptide oxytocin, along with the structurally similar peptide arginine vasopressin, may play a role in the etiology of autism, and especially in the social impairment domain. Oxytocin is a nonapeptide (i.e., it has nine amino acids). It is synthesized in magnocellular neurons in the paraventricular nucleus and the supraoptic nucleus of the hypothalamus and is released into the bloodstream by way of axon terminals in the posterior pituitary. Oxytocin is released both peripherally, where it is involved in milk letdown and the facilitation of uterine contractions, and centrally, where it acts as a neuromodulator along with arginine vasopressin. Here, we discuss relevant translational research pertaining to the role of oxytocin in social and repetitive behaviors and consider clinical implications. We also discuss current research limitations, review recent preliminary findings from studies involving oxytocin in autism spectrum disorder patient populations, and point to possible directions for future research.

from Neurotherapeutics

Reward processing in autism

The social motivation hypothesis of autism posits that infants with autism do not experience social stimuli as rewarding, thereby leading to a cascade of potentially negative consequences for later development. While possible downstream effects of this hypothesis such as altered face and voice processing have been examined, there has not been a direct investigation of social reward processing in autism. Here we use functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine social and monetary rewarded implicit learning in children with and without autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Sixteen males with ASD and sixteen age- and IQ-matched typically developing (TD) males were scanned while performing two versions of a rewarded implicit learning task. In addition to examining responses to reward, we investigated the neural circuitry supporting rewarded learning and the relationship between these factors and social development. We found diminished neural responses to both social and monetary rewards in ASD, with a pronounced reduction in response to social rewards (SR). Children with ASD also demonstrated a further deficit in frontostriatal response during social, but not monetary, rewarded learning. Moreover, we show a relationship between ventral striatum activity and social reciprocity in TD children. Together, these data support the hypothesis that children with ASD have diminished neural responses to SR, and that this deficit relates to social learning impairments.

from Autism Research

Theory of Mind in adults with right hemisphere damage: What’s the story?

Why do people with right hemisphere damage (RHD) have difficulty with pragmatics and communication? One hypothesis has been that pragmatic impairment in RHD is the result of an underlying impairment in Theory of Mind (ToM): the ability to infer the mental states of others. In previous studies evaluating ToM abilities in people with RHD, researchers have used judgment tasks based on story or still cartoon stimuli. However, ToM is likely to draw on kinetic information as well, and these tasks ignore this aspect. The aim of this study was to assess ToM abilities in people with RHD using participants’ evaluations of animated films with moving geometric shapes. Participants were presented with eight films of animated triangles. Four of the films represented the triangles as intentional agents with mental states, while the other four represented the triangles as simply inanimate, though moving, objects. Films were evaluated by both button-press response and by oral descriptions. Analysis of the transcriptions revealed that participants with RHD had a reduced ability to discriminate between the film categories, and a bias toward reduced mental-state ascription in the ToM condition.

from Brain and Language

Theory of mind deficits in patients with acquired brain injury: A quantitative review

Impaired theory of mind (ToM) reasoning is considered an underlying cause of social cognition deficits in patients with acquired brain injury (ABI). However, the literature does not agree on the severity of ToM impairment in this clinical population, nor does it coincide on the proper tools for its assessment. In this paper, we use a meta-analytic approach to review 26 studies which compare the performance of ABI patients and healthy controls in four widely-used ToM tasks: first-order belief task, second order belief task, understanding indirect speech (IS) and social faux pas. Overall, patients show moderate to severe ToM impairment. The latter appears in faux pas (effect size = 0.70) and understanding IS tasks (ES = 0.87), while moderate impairment can be seen in second-order (ES = 0.60) and first-order belief tasks (ES = 0.52). The severity of ToM impairment was influenced by ratio of patients with frontal lobe lesion, ratio of patients with right hemisphere injury, type of belief task, and heterogeneity of the sample’s etiology. Our results provide important quantitative evidence on the severity of ToM deficits in the ABI population, while identifying variables that influence these deficits. Implications for basic and clinical neuropsychology are discussed.

from Neuropsychologia

Piagetian and Vygotskian Approaches to Language Acquisition

Both Piaget and Vygotsky were centrally concerned with the ontogenetic relationships between language, cognition, and social life. Recently, researchers have drawn on their observations and hypotheses to establish much closer links between these phenomena than either theorist ever imagined. In investigating the cognitive bases of early language, very close links have been established between specific cognitive achievements and the acquisition of certain types of early words, for example between object permanence development and the acquisition of words for disappearance and between means ends development and the acquisition of words for success/failure. In investigating the social bases of early language, close links have been established between the quantity and quality of joint attentional social interactions in which a child and an adult engage and the child’s early word learning skills. Despite their seminal contributions to the study of early language development along these two lines, neither Piaget nor Vygotsky fully appreciated the skills of social cognition that underlie the acqusition of language.

from Human Development

Social cues, mentalizing and the neural processing of speech accompanied by gestures

Body orientation and eye gaze influence how information is conveyed during face-to-face communication. However, the neural pathways underpinning the comprehension of social cues in everyday interaction are not known. In this study we investigated the influence of addressing vs. non-addressing body orientation on the neural processing of speech accompanied by gestures.

While in an fMRI scanner, participants viewed short video clips of an actor speaking sentences with object- (O; e.g. shape) or person-related content (P; e.g. saying goodbye) accompanied by iconic (e.g. circle) or emblematic gestures (e.g. waving), respectively. The actor’s body was oriented either toward the participant (frontal, F) or toward a third person (lateral, L) not visible.

For frontal vs. lateral actor orientation (F>L), we observed activation of bilateral occipital, inferior frontal, medial frontal, right anterior temporal and left parietal brain regions. Additionally, we observed activity in the occipital and anterior temporal lobes due to an interaction effect between actor orientation and content of the communication (PF>PL)>(OF>OL).

Our findings indicate that social cues influence the neural processing of speech- gesture utterances. Mentalizing (the process of inferring the mental state of another individual) could be responsible for these effects. In particular, socially relevant cues seem to activate regions of the anterior temporal lobes if abstract person-related content is communicated by speech and gesture. These new findings illustrate the complexity of interpersonal communication, as our data demonstrate that multisensory information pathways interact at both perceptual and semantic levels.

from Neuropsychologia

Critical discourse analysis and metaphor: toward a theoretical framework

Critical discourse analysis (CDA) explores the role of discourse structures in constituting social inequality. Metaphorical structure, however, has received relatively little attention in explicit CDA. The paper aims to redress this by developing a coherent theoretical framework for CDA and metaphor. This framework adopts conceptual blending theory over conceptual metaphor theory, where the latter is perceived to be incompatible with CDA. The framework is applied in a CDA of metaphors for nation and immigration in the British National Party’s 2005 general election manifesto.



Unconscious linguistic referents to race: analysis and methodological frameworks

Recent years have seen considerable development in methodological designs for accessing and eliciting unconscious cognitive schemata in response to social stimuli, including race. One design is experimental and involves the priming and automatic activation of schemata. Another design is a specifically developed psycho-linguistic and logico-mathematic method for recognizing, analyzing, and validating unconsciously expressed meaning in verbal narratives, referred to as sub-literal (SubLit). Unconscious references to race found in verbal discourse from both laboratory and everyday settings, including the mass media, are illustrated and analyzed utilizing these two complementary methodological designs. Along with suggested procedures, an initial classification scheme for attributions of racial stereotypes and prejudice are presented. Given the historical and current state of race relations both nationally and globally, the paper has significant social implications.

from Discourse and Society