Melanie Cohn, University Health Network and Psychology, University of Toronto
Title: Social Inference Deficits in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and Lobectomy: Risk Factors and Neural Substrates
Ebbinghaus Empire Series 2013-2014
Neuroimaging and patient studies implicate the anterior temporal lobes in social inference. In temporal lobe epilepsy and anterior temporal lobectomy, deficits in simple social inference abilities such as emotion identification have been found consistently. However, there is limited evidence of the impact of temporal lobe epilepsy and epilepsy surgery on more complex skills such as theory-of-mind. Furthermore, risk factors and the specific neural underpinnings of deficits in social inference in this population are unclear. We investigated these issues using a comprehensive range of social inference tasks (emotion, deceit, sarcasm) in individuals with temporal lobe epilepsy or lobectomy. Social inference skills were reduced in patients and the severity of these impairments is partly related to the presence of mesial temporal lobe sclerosis, early age of seizure onset and left temporal lobe surgery. Structural neuroimaging analyses in pre-surgical patients also confirmed the importance of the left anterior temporal lobe in supporting social inference, and specifically, the hippocampus and anterior neocortex. These findings are in keeping with theoretical proposals that the hippocampus is critical for binding diverse elements in cognitive domains beyond canonical episodic memory operations, and that the anterior temporal cortex can be characterized as a convergence zone of higher-order perceptual and emotional processes, and of stored representations that support social inference. Because these deficits may contribute to psychobehavioural problems, further systematic investigation of this behavioral domain and its impact on the lives of people with epilepsy is required.
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