Childhood Trauma Tied to Greater Social Dysfunction in Adults with Major Mental Illness

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Childhood trauma is tied to impaired social cognition in adults diagnosed with major psychiatric disorders, according to a new Irish study published in the journal European Psychiatry.

‘Social cognition’ is a psychology term related to how people process and apply information regarding other people and social interactions. It focuses on the role that cognitive processes play in social situations. For example, the way we think about others significantly influences how we think, feel, and interact with the world around us.

The study findings show that a traumatic early social environment often leads to social cognitive problems and greater illness severity for people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, major depressive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Early childhood neglect, abuse, and/or trauma puts patients at greater risk for developing cognitive impairments that will later affect social perception and interaction, a core aspect of disability in major psychiatric disorders,” said lead investigator Gary Donohoe, MPsychSc, DClinPsych, PhD, Centre for Neuroimaging and Cognitive Genomics at the National University of Ireland.

Problems with social cognitive function are a hallmark feature of major psychiatric disorders resulting in poor social and occupational functioning, specifically with regard to emotion recognition and regulation, theory of mind (the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others), attributional style, and social perception.

Traumatic childhood experiences — such as emotional and physical abuse and neglect, early loss of caregivers, and insecure attachment styles — are reported in up to 85 percent of patients with various psychiatric disorders.

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