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Neuropsychologia. 2012 Apr;50(5):786-90. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2012.01.012. Epub 2012 Jan 20.

Diminished disgust reactivity in behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia.

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Department of Psychology, University of California, 3210 Tolman Hall #1650, Berkeley, CA 94720-1650, USA.


Frontotemporal dementia is a neurodegenerative disease that impacts emotion and social behavior. Using laboratory measures of emotional reactivity, our past work has found that reactivity to loud noises and to thematically simple happy and sad emotional films are preserved in the early stages of the disease while other emotional responses (e.g., embarrassment) are severely compromised. In the present study we examined disgust, an emotion whose function is to distance us from offending objects and situations. We measured disgust reactivity in 21 patients with behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD, a subtype of frontotemporal dementia characterized by emotional blunting) and 25 neurologically healthy controls. Disgust is an emotion of particular interest in bvFTD, due to caregiver and clinician reports that patients engage in acts that suggest this emotion may be compromised; in addition, the pattern of neurodegeneration in bvFTD includes atrophy of key frontotemporal structures (e.g., anterior insula) with known roles in visceral emotions such as disgust. In the present study, participants had their emotional facial behavior, physiology, and self-reported emotional experience measured while watching a disgust-eliciting film. We found that behavioral, physiological, and self-reported experiential responses were all reduced in bvFTD patients compared to controls (with behavioral and physiological differences still found after controlling for patients' cognitive deficits). We discuss the implications of these findings for bvFTD patients' problems in social functioning and their typical patterns of neurodegeneration.

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