Interaction without intent: the shape of the social world in Huntington's disease

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2015 Sep;10(9):1228-35. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsv012. Epub 2015 Feb 12.


Huntington's disease (HD) is an inherited neurodegenerative condition. Patients with this movement disorder can exhibit deficits on tasks involving Theory of Mind (ToM): the ability to understand mental states such as beliefs and emotions. We investigated mental state inference in HD in response to ambiguous animations involving geometric shapes, while exploring the impact of symptoms within cognitive, emotional and motor domains. Forty patients with HD and twenty healthy controls described the events in videos showing random movements of two triangles (i.e. floating), simple interactions (e.g. following) and more complex interactions prompting the inference of mental states (e.g. one triangle encouraging the other). Relationships were explored between animation interpretation and measures of executive functioning, alexithymia and motor symptoms. Individuals with HD exhibited alexithymia and a reduced tendency to spontaneously attribute intentions to interacting triangles on the animations task. Attribution of intentions on the animations task correlated with motor symptoms and burden of pathology. Importantly, patients without motor symptoms showed similar ToM deficits despite intact executive functions. Subtle changes in ToM that are unrelated to executive dysfunction could therefore feature in basal ganglia disorders prior to motor onset.

Keywords: anthropomorphism; biological motion; frontostriatal dysfunction; movement disorders; theory of mind.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affective Symptoms / physiopathology
  • Affective Symptoms / psychology
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease / physiopathology
  • Huntington Disease / psychology*
  • Intention*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Social Perception*
  • Theory of Mind / physiology*
  • Young Adult