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Perspective taking in Korsakoff's syndrome : the role of executive functioning and task complexity

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Author: Oosterman, J.M. · Goede, M. de · Wester, A.J. · Zandvoort, M.J.E. van · Kessels, R.P.C.
Source:Acta Neuropsychiatrica, 6, 23, 302-308
Identifier: 429775
doi: doi:10.1111/j.1601-5215.2011.00552.x
Keywords: Psychology · executive functioning · Korsakoff's syndrome · perspective taking · social cognition · theory of mind · adult · clinical article · cognition · cognitive defect · comprehension · controlled study · female · human · knowledge · Korsakoff psychosis · male · neuropsychological test · review · social cognition · task performance · thinking · Human · PCS - Perceptual and Cognitive Systems · BSS - Behavioural and Societal Sciences


Objective: The ability to make inferences about knowledge, thoughts and feelings of others, i.e. perspective taking, is a key element of social cognition. Clinical observations indicate that Korsakoff patients may have impairments in social cognition, but studies are scarce. Also, executive dysfunction is present in Korsakoff patients, which may hamper perspective taking directly. Methods: Twenty-three patients with Korsakoff's syndrome and 15 healthy matched controls were examined on a story comprehension task, in which inferences had to be made that either relied on perspective taking or not. The effects of task complexity were taken into account and executive function was assessed using an extensive neuropsychological test battery. Results: The performance of Korsakoff patients declined with increasing complexity, but the pattern of decline for perspective-taking and non-perspective-taking stories was similar compared to that of the control group. Furthermore, the performance decline with increasing task complexity was directly related to the overall decline in executive functioning. Conclusion: Executive dysfunction, not deficits in perspective taking per se, appears to underlie difficulties in story comprehension in patients with Korsakoff's syndrome.