False-Belief Understanding In Frontotemporal Dementia And Alzheimer's Disease

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Journal Of Clinical And Experimental Neuropsychology


The ability to understand other people's behavior in terms of mental states, such as beliefs, desires, and intentions, is central to social interaction. It has been argued that the interpersonal problems of patients with behavioral variant of frontotemporal dementia (FTD-b) are due to a dysfunction of that system. We used first- and second-order false-belief tasks to assess theory-of-mind reasoning in a group of patients with FTD-b and a cognitively matched group of patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD). Both patient groups were equally impaired relative to a healthy elderly group in the cognitively demanding second-order false-belief tasks, revealing that cognitive demands are an important factor in false-belief task performance. Both patient groups reached ceiling performance in the first-order false-belief tasks with minimal cognitive demands, despite the striking difference in their social graces. These results suggest that a conceptual deficit in theory of mind—as measured by the false-belief task—is not at the core of the differences between FTD-b and AD.

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