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Psychiatry Res. 2016 Mar 30;237:103-8. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2016.01.070. Epub 2016 Jan 28.

Dissociating emotional and cognitive empathy in pre-clinical and clinical Huntington's disease.

Author information

1
Laboratory for Experimental Psychopathology, Psychological Sciences Research Institute, Université catholique de Louvain, 10 Place C. Mercier, B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. Electronic address: Pierre.maurage@uclouvain.be.
2
Laboratory for Experimental Psychopathology, Psychological Sciences Research Institute, Université catholique de Louvain, 10 Place C. Mercier, B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.
3
Université de Lille, UMR 9193 - SCALab - Sciences Cognitives et Sciences Affectives, F-59000 Lille, France.
4
Department of Neurology, Saint-Luc University Hospital, 10 Avenue Hippocrate, B-1200 Brussels, Belgium.
5
Department of Neuropsychiatry, Beauvallon Psychiatric Hospital, 205 Rue de Bricgniot, B-5002 Saint-Servais, Belgium.
6
Institute of Pathology and Genetics, 25 Avenue George Lemaître, B-6041 Gosselies, Belgium.
7
Department of Psychiatry, Liège University Hospital, Domaine Universitaire du Sart Tilman, B-4000 Liège, Belgium.
8
Laboratory for Experimental Psychopathology, Psychological Sciences Research Institute, Université catholique de Louvain, 10 Place C. Mercier, B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium; Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA.
9
Department of Adult Psychiatry, Saint-Luc University Hospital, 10 Avenue Hippocrate, B-1200 Brussels, Belgium.

Abstract

Huntington's disease (HD) is centrally characterized by motor, neurocognitive and psychiatric symptoms, but impaired emotional decoding abilities have also been reported. However, more complex affective abilities are still to be explored, and particularly empathy, which is essential for social relations and is impaired in various psychiatric conditions. This study evaluates empathic abilities and social skills in pre-clinical and clinical HD, and explores the distinction between two empathy sub-components (emotional-cognitive). Thirty-six HD patients (17 pre-clinical) and 36 matched controls filled in the Empathy Quotient Scale, while controlling for psychopathological comorbidities. At the clinical stage of HD, no global empathy impairment was observed but rather a specific deficit for the cognitive sub-component, while emotional empathy was preserved. A deficit was also observed for social skills. Pre-clinical HD was not associated with any empathy deficit. Emotional deficits in clinical HD are thus not limited to basic emotion decoding but extend towards complex interpersonal abilities. The dissociation between impaired cognitive and preserved emotional empathy in clinical HD reinforces the proposal that empathy subtypes are sustained by distinct processes. Finally, these results underline the extent of distinct affective and social impairments in HD and the need to grasp them in clinical contexts.

KEYWORDS:

Empathy; Huntington; Neurodegenerative disease; Social cognition; Social skills

PMID:
26869362
DOI:
10.1016/j.psychres.2016.01.070
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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