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Social cognition in alcoholism: a link to prefrontal cortex dysfunction?


Jennifer Uekermann, Faculty of Psychology, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience GAFO 05/607, Ruhr-University of Bochum, Bochum 44780, Germany. E-mail:


Aims  Alcoholism is associated with a range of cognitive deficits. These deficits might be explained by the ‘frontal lobe hypothesis’ which suggests a specific vulnerability of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) to the neurotoxic effects of alcohol. Social cognition is thought to be processed in the PFC, but so far only few studies have addressed the issue of social cognition deficits in alcoholism. This review aims to evaluate the deficits in social cognition in alcoholic patients. In addition an outline for future perspectives is given.

Methods  Medline and Psyclit searches were performed for a 30-year period (1977–2007).

Results  Alcoholism is associated clearly with social cognition impairments which include emotional face and prosody perception problems, theory of mind deficits and humour processing difficulties.

Conclusions  In summary, the social cognition impairments are consistent with the frontal lobe hypothesis of alcoholism. Future studies should focus on (i) the delineation of the basic cognitive processes which underlie social cognition deficits; and (ii) their relevance as predictors of treatment outcome in alcoholism.

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