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Neurocognitive networks for social cognition: Insights from diffusion weighted imaging and frontotemporal dementia

Coad, Bethany 2017. Neurocognitive networks for social cognition: Insights from diffusion weighted imaging and frontotemporal dementia. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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Empathy is a complex and multicomponent social cognitive function. It is underpinned by large-scale neurocognitive networks, the precise cognitive and neural structure of which remains debated. Despite this, relatively little work has considered the cognitive or neural components of empathy at the network-level. Here I present work using diffusion weighted magnetic resonance imaging (DWI) in healthy adults, and cognitive and behavioural assessment in a relatively rare form of dementia, the behavioural variant of frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD). Using these methods I explore: (a) the relationship between the microstructural properties of white matter tracts that mediate connectivity between distinct neurocognitive networks and separable cognitive components of empathic cognition (b) the cognitive and behavioural consequences of perturbation to neurocognitive networks in dementia. BvFTD is of interest here as it appears to preferentially target neural networks that support socioemotional processing. In chapters 2 and 3, evidence regarding the white matter structures that are affected by bvFTD guides investigations of the relationship between the microstructural properties of specific white matter tracts and social cognitive functioning in the healthy adult brain. In these chapters, I show that, in young healthy adults, two white matter pathways, sensitive to early changes in bvFTD, the Uncinate fasciculus (UF) and the cingulum bundle (CB), are related to individual differences in two components of empathic functioning, respectively: facial emotion decoding and mentalising. In chapter 4 I show the dissociation of performance on tasks assessing these cognitive functions in an individual with early bvFTD. I highlight the sensitivity and potential clinical utility of tasks assessing literary fiction-based mentalising. In Chapter 5 I present a detailed qualitative description of social cognitive change in frontotemporal dementia (FTD), from the perspective of family members. I consider what such detailed descriptions of everyday behaviour may tell us about the cognitive underpinnings of complex social behaviour. The findings of this thesis further our understanding of the dissociable neurocognitive networks that support empathic functioning, including their structural underpinnings and the behavioural consequences of their perturbation. In the general discussion, I consider the implications of this work for our understanding of social cognitive functioning and bvFTD.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Funders: ESRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 17 May 2018
Date of Acceptance: 16 May 2018
Last Modified: 17 May 2018 09:14

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