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Aim  To examine social information processing in children and adolescents with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1).

Method  Thirty-two children with NF1 (12 males, 20 females; mean age 12y 4mo, SD 4y) and 32 comparison children (12 males, 20 females; mean age 13y 1mo, SD 3y 11mo) completed face recognition, identification of facial emotions (IFE), and matching facial emotions (MFE) tasks. A series of general linear model analyses of variance were used to compare performance between children with NF1 and comparison children.

Results  Children with NF1 performed less accurately than comparison children in the face recognition task when faces were presented ‘in profile’ (p=0.05), when fearful expressions had to be identified in IFE (p=0.017), and across conditions in MFE (p=0.009). When quality of cognitive control (i.e. mean standardized scores on tasks measuring working memory and inhibitory control) was introduced to the analyses, differences in face recognition were no longer significant and differences in MFE were largely reduced (p=0.048). Differences in IFE between the comparison group and children with NF1 remained largely intact (fear: p=0.047).

Interpretation  Children with NF1 have problems in social information processing, which, in part, appear to be caused by cognitive control deficits. Some of the deficits, however, appear to be caused by deficient bottom-up processing of social signals (e.g. fear recognition).