Many individuals with severe mental disorders have difficulties in vocational and social functioning, which are regarded the most important outcomes, together with clinical symptoms. To understand the underlying mechanisms, research is increasingly focused on factors influencing functional outcomes. One established association has been shown between cognition and community functioning with negative symptoms as a possible mediator. Although it has been shown that negative symptoms consist of two subdomains, thus far negative symptoms have been assessed as one unitary construct. This study considers for the first time subdomains of negative symptoms as putative mediators (expressive deficits, amotivation) of the association between cognition (neuro- and social cognition) and functional outcome (living situation, occupation, social functioning). We expected that specific subdomains of negative symptoms (e.g. amotivation) would mediate the effect of cognition on specific functional outcomes (e.g. social functioning) independently from illness duration. To assess this, we included two independent cohorts, consisting of participants with different illness duration. These two independent cohorts consisted of patients with a recent-onset psychotic disorder: PROGR-S (first time treated; N = 1129) and GROUP (illness duration preferably <5 years; N = 1200). Using linear regression, mediation analyses were performed with two cognition domains (neurocognition and social cognition) as predictors, negative symptoms (Expressive deficits and Amotivation as indexed with items from the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale) as mediators and three measures of functional outcomes (living situation, occupation and social functioning) as outcome measures. The analyses were repeated with the same outcome measures three years later. Three main results were obtained. I) Both in the cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses, the associations of neurocognition (both cohorts) and social cognition (GROUP) with social functioning were mediated by amotivation. II) The association between cognition and living situation was mediated by Expressive deficits in one cohort (GROUP) but not in the cohort assessing first-episode psychosis (PROGR-S). III) The association between cognition and occupation was mediated by Amotivation in PROGR-S and by Expressive deficits in GROUP. CONCLUSION: The current results show a less robust mediating role for specific negative symptom domains regarding the associations of cognition with occupation and living situation that may depend on the duration of psychotic illness. However, Amotivation, mediates the association between cognition and social functioning, which holds true for patients experiencing a first-onset and patients with a longer illness duration alike. The results may have implications for the development of therapeutic approaches focusing on amotivation to improve social functioning. GENERAL SCIENTIFIC SUMMARY: This study stresses the importance of distinguishing subdomains of negative symptoms, cognition and functioning. Our results show that specific negative symptom dimensions mediate the effects of cognition on specific functional outcomes.
Keywords: Cognition; Mediation analysis; Negative symptom domains; Outcome.
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