Objective: Little is known about neuropsychological and social-cognitive function in patients with pediatric bipolar disorder. Identification of specific deficits and strengths that characterize pediatric bipolar disorder would facilitate advances in diagnosis, treatment, and research on pathophysiology. The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that youths with bipolar disorder would perform more poorly than matched healthy comparison subjects on measures of social cognition, motor inhibition, and response flexibility.
Method: Forty outpatients with pediatric bipolar disorder and 22 comparison subjects (no differences in age, gender, and IQ) completed measures of social cognition (the pragmatic judgment subtest of the Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language, facial expression recognition subtests of the Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Accuracy Scale, the oral expression subtest of the Test of Language Competence), inhibition and response flexibility (stop and stop-change tasks), and motor inhibition (continuous performance tasks).
Results: Pediatric bipolar disorder patients performed more poorly than comparison subjects on social-cognitive measures (pragmatic judgment of language, facial expression recognition) and on a task requiring response flexibility. These deficits were present in euthymic patients. Differences between patients and comparison subjects could not be attributed to comorbid attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Conclusions: Findings of impaired social cognition and response flexibility in youths with pediatric bipolar disorder suggest continuity between pediatric bipolar disorder and adult bipolar disorder. These findings provide a foundation for neurocognitive research designed to identify the neural mechanisms underlying these deficits.