Impairment of social perception associated with lesions of the prefrontal cortex

Am J Psychiatry. 2004 Jul;161(7):1247-55. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.161.7.1247.


Objective: Behavioral and social impairments have been frequently reported after damage to the prefrontal cortex in humans. This study evaluated social perception in patients with prefrontal cortex lesions and compared their performance on a social perception task with that of healthy volunteers.

Method: Thirty-three patients with prefrontal cortex lesions and 31 healthy volunteers were tested with the Interpersonal Perception Task. In this task, subjects viewed videotaped social interactions and relied primarily on nonverbal cues to make interpersonal judgments, such as determining the degree of intimacy between two persons depicted in the videotaped scene. Patients with prefrontal cortex lesions were classified according to lesion involvement of specific regions, including the orbitofrontal cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and anterior cingulate cortex.

Results: Relative to the comparison subjects, patients whose lesions involved the orbitofrontal cortex demonstrated impaired social perception. Contrary to predictions, patients with lesions in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex also showed deficits in using social cues to make interpersonal judgments. All patients, particularly those with lesions in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, showed poorer insight into their deficits, relative to healthy volunteers.

Conclusions: These findings of deficits in social perception after damage to the orbitofrontal cortex extend previous clinical and experimental evidence of damage-related impairment in other aspects of social cognition, such as the ability to accurately evaluate emotional facial expressions. In addition, the results suggest that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is recruited when inferences about social interactions are made on the basis of nonverbal information.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Brain Injuries / psychology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Facial Expression
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiopathology
  • Gyrus Cinguli / injuries
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Judgment / physiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nonverbal Communication / physiology
  • Perceptual Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Perceptual Disorders / psychology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / injuries*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Social Perception*
  • Videotape Recording