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Different Patterns of Theory of Mind Impairment in Mild Cognitive Impairment


Theory of Mind refers to the ability to infer other's mental states, their beliefs, intentions, or knowledge. To date, only two studies have reported the presence of Theory of Mind impairment in mild cognitive impairment (MCI). In the present study, we evaluated 20 MCI patients and compared them with 25 healthy control participants using two Theory of Mind tasks. The first task was a false belief paradigm as frequently used in the literature, and the second one was a referential communication task, assessing Theory of Mind in a real situation of interaction and which had never been used before in this population. The results showed that MCI patients presented difficulties inferring another person's beliefs about reality and attributing knowledge to them in a situation of real-life interaction. Two different patterns of Theory of Mind emerged among the patients. In comparison with the control group, some MCI patients demonstrated impairment only in the interaction task and presented isolated episodic memory impairment, while others were impaired in both Theory of Mind tasks and presented cognitive impairment impacting both episodic memory and executive functioning. Theory of Mind is thus altered in the very early stages of cognitive impairment even in real social interaction, which could impact precociously relationships in daily life.