Deficits in social cognition: a marker for psychiatric disorders?

  • Birgit DerntlEmail author
  • Ute Habel


Research on social cognition focuses on several human abilities with a huge diversity in the approaches to tap the different functions. Empathy, for instance, is a rather elaborated human ability, and several recent studies point to significant impairments in patients suffering from psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia or autism. Neuroimaging data from these patients commonly indicate neural dysfunctions accompanying the behavioral deficits. Studying the neural correlates of social cognition is of particular importance, because deficits in these domains may explain the major dysfunctions in psychiatric disorders that prevent effective (re) integration into work and social life. It has also become clearer that social cognition deficits, similar to emotion dysfunctions, may represent trait markers and endophenotypes of the diseases. However, there are several challenges for future studies on social cognitive dysfunctions: on the one hand, the complexity of the constructs and thus the variety of definitions which make it hard to develop adequate tasks. On the other hand, results are needed that particularly address the disorder specificity of these impairments, as well as their potential as endophenotypes via analyzing people at high-risk and their relatives.


Social cognition Schizophrenia Autism Emotion fMRI 



B. Derntl and U. Habel were supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG IRTG 1328; Ha3202/7-1, KFO 112) and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF P23533).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

This supplement was not sponsored by outside commercial interests. It was funded by the German Association for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy (DGPPN).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Clinical, Biological and Differential Psychology, Faculty of PsychologyUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and PsychosomaticsRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  3. 3.JARA-BRAIN Jülich Aachen Research Alliance, Translational Brain MedicineJuelichGermany

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