People with epilepsy may have difficulties with certain aspects of social cognition, and especially with identifying negative emotional states such as sarcasm and insincerity, according a study published in the scientific journal Epilepsia.The research also showed that the age of epilepsy onset can significantly impact on social cognition, with more marked effects arising when onset is during periods of significant social development in childhood and adolescence.These findings are important because they imply that, even though a person’s performance in standard generalised cognitive assessments gives a good indication of their basic social cognitive ability, it does not reveal as much about their level of advanced social cognition. This suggests that current generalised measures may not be as useful as once thought for standard neuropsychological assessment.For the study, a team led by Dr Robert Roth, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Geisel School of Medicine in Dartmouth, assessed social cognition in 43 people with focal epilepsy and 22 healthy controls. They used a dynamic video-based instrument called “The Awareness of Social Inference Test”, which accurately models real-world social situations.During the test, the researchers asked participants to watch short videos of people interacting and answer questions about what they believe was occurring.The results showed that people with epilepsy had no difficulty identifying positive emotions, for example happiness, but that they found it more difficult than controls to pinpointing negative emotions such as anger, fear and disgust. Moreover, people with epilepsy had no problem identifying sincere exchanges, but they were less adept than controls at telling when exchanges were insincere or sarcastic.An awareness of these traits is important, and it may help prevent some people with epilepsy from being vulnerable in certain social situations.Social cognition is a group of strategies that people use to process, store and apply information about other people and social situations in order to make sense of the social world. The main social cognitive skill is the ability to understand and react to the mental state of others. Other social cognitive skills include attachment formation, social communication, self-understanding and perception of others.Author: Dr Özge ÖzkayaClick here to read more stories about living with epilepsy.