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Social cognition in focal epilepsy

In people with focal epilepsy impairments in social cognition are under-researched. Brain structures that are important for recognizing emotions and understanding social situations can be afflicted in these patients. Social cognition comprises basic functions such as facial emotion recognition and higher functions, e.g., theory of mind (ToM). If such functions are compromised, severe impairments in daily social interactions may arise.

The goals of the planned project are based on unanswered research questions, one the one hand the investigation of basic and higher social cognitive functions and their association with focus localisation and lateralisation. On the other hand, we plan to investigate if and how deficits in social cognition influence daily social functioning. A further important and yet unresolved issue pertains to potential correlations between deficits in basic and higher social cognitive functions.

We plan to include and compare patients with temporal and frontal lobe epilepsy as well as healthy volunteers. Basic facial emotion recognition is tested by presenting faces with differing emotional expressions on a PC screen. Subjects are asked to judge which emotion is presented. In an auditory task, subjects are required to judge the speaker’s emotion from his or her prosody. The more complex ToM is tested with a video-based task novel to epilepsy research. Facial emotion recognition will be combined with eyetracking, i.e. during the task parameters such as fixation count and duration for predefined areas of interest will be measured. Moreover, perceived loneliness, empathy, and other indicators of social functioning, e.g., relationship status, as well as basic neuropsychological functions will be assessed.

We hope that this study will contribute to a better understanding of social cognition and the consequences of social cognitive deficits for daily living in people with focal epilepsy, and ultimately lead to the formulation of effective therapeutic strategies.


Abteilung Prächirurgische Epilepsiediagnostik


Ärztlicher Leiter:
Prof. Dr. Schulze-Bonhage
Breisacher Str. 64
D-79106 Freiburg
Telefon: 0761 270 53660
Telefax: 0761 270 50030
E-Mail: epilepsiezentrum@uniklinik-freiburg.de