Social Cognition: Does It Impact MS Symptoms?

Ed Tobias avatar

by Ed Tobias |

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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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Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Mer avatar


My spouse is constantly correcting anything I say. He says he’s just correcting the info.

Jeanne Rainoldi avatar

Jeanne Rainoldi

That is unacceptable and truly appalling. Tell your spouse to stop it! Your spouse is not your teacher, parent, instructor, "well-meaning" friend, relative, or advisor. Your spouse is condescending to say the least and a know-it-all boor.

Traci Easton avatar

Traci Easton

My family is ALWAYS either cutting me off or treating me like I am directly offending them because of my slower response to what they are saying. #DISGUSTED


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