Social Cognition: Does It Impact MS Symptoms?
Feeling tired, depressed, or anxious? Maybe it has to do with your social cognition. Social cognition involves empathy and recognizing the emotions that are revealed by someone’s facial expression. That expression may show fear or disgust. Or it may warn us of danger.
Social cognition also involves the theory of mind. This has to do with beliefs, and with a person understanding that others may have beliefs and perspectives different from their own. It is considered important for daily social interactions because everyone uses it, subconsciously, to judge and understand the actions and behaviors of other people.
Social cognition and MS
There is evidence that people with MS have a hard time with social cognition. Now, a small study run by the Kessler Foundation has looked at how those social cognition problems might have an impact on some of our MS symptoms. Test subjects who performed poorly on social cognition tasks self-reported that they had worse depression, anxiety, and fatigue than those with better test scores.
But what comes first? Do social cognition problems exacerbate MS symptoms, or do the symptoms create social cognition problems?
“The nature of the relationships among these variables remains unclear,” says Helen Genova, PhD, the study’s lead writer. “We cannot say whether deficits of social cognition worsen mood condition and fatigue, or vice versa. … Poor social cognition may worsen fatigue, depression, and anxiety, leading to greater social isolation. That, in turn, may worsen social cognitive function.”
It seems to me that someone who has a hard time picking up social cues would be someone who is depressed and anxious. If you can’t easily determine the mood of another person, it is hard to make a personal connection with that person. I’d think that would lead to difficult relationships and a very small circle of friends. Genova seems to agree with my assessment.
“All of these conditions adversely affect quality of life,” she says.
So, it looks as if the best we can do is add social cognition to the list of difficulties for those of us with MS. Being aware of that may help us cope.
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