Results from a Canadian study show that social cognitive ability is impaired in patients with bipolar disorder (BD).
The researchers found that, compared with mentally healthy individuals, patients with BD were less able to accurately judge the mental state of others from facial expressions and to perceive social cues when viewing people interacting.
"Preliminary findings from this study indicate that deficits in interpersonal functioning may stem from impairments on social cognitive tasks in BD," comment Margaret McKinnon (McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario) and colleagues in Psychiatry Research.
The team studied 25 BD patients (18 women), aged a mean of 44.2 years, and 25 age-, gender-, and education-matched mentally healthy controls.
All of the participants completed the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), in which they viewed 36 sets of eyes depicting complex mental states, such as jealousy and desire, and were asked to describe the mental state of the person in the photograph.
They also completed the Interpersonal Perception Task (IPT-15), in which they viewed 15 videotaped scenes depicting one to four individuals interacting. Each vignette was followed by a multiple choice questionnaire in which the participants were asked to make social judgments about the scenes (kinship, intimacy, deception, competition, and status).
In addition, the participants completed the Social Adjustment Scale Self-Report (SAS-SR) questionnaire.
The researchers found that BD patients were significantly less accurate on the RMET than controls, with mean scores of 23.9 versus 26.2.
BD patients also had significantly worse total IPT-15 scores than controls, at 9.4 versus 10.3, as well as significantly worse IPT-15 subscale scores for kinship (1.9 vs 2.3) and competition (2.2 vs 2.6).
Among all participants, poorer scores on the IPT-15 were associated with reduced psychosocial functioning, as assessed using the SAS-SR questionnaire.
McKinnon et al conclude: "The ability to understand and appreciate mental states and to perceive social information should be taken into consideration in treatment interventions for BD."
They add: "Treatment approaches that incorporate social skills training may help improve the social dysfunction that accompanies this disorder."
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