Investigating the perception of emotion portrayed through body movements in Motor Neuron Disease

Walker, Iona Catherine Margaret (2019) Investigating the perception of emotion portrayed through body movements in Motor Neuron Disease. D Clin Psy thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Motor Neuron Disease (MND) disrupts signals between the brain and the muscles causing physical disability and speech difficulties. Recent studies suggest that Theory of Mind (ToM), or the ability to interpret facial expressions and empathise with others’ emotions, can be impaired by MND. Research has, however, not yet investigated whether MND causes deficits in understanding emotion portrayed by body movements. The current study used a novel computerised assessment tool, E-Motion, which was developed with the aim of assessing the ability to interpret emotions through body movements. The primary hypothesis was that individuals with MND would be impaired compared to control participants on the E-Motion test.

Fifteen individuals with MND and fifteen neurotypical participants were recruited via an MND patient register and opportunity sampling. Participants completed cognitive and psychological assessments and ToM assessments: a subtest of the Awareness of Social Inference Test (TASIT), the Edinburgh Cognitive and Behavioural ALS Screen social cognition test (ECAS) and the E-Motion assessment.

A Mann-Whitney U Test indicated that the MND group performed significantly poorer on the E-Motion test with a large effect size (p<0.01, Eta squared=0.35, 90% CI [0.14, 0.59]) and on the ECAS social cognition subtest, with a medium effect size (p=0.02, Eta squared=0.19, 90% CI [0.02, 0.41]) compared to controls. An independent t-test indicated that the MND group attained lower scores on the TASIT subtest compared to controls with a medium effect size, although group differences were not significant (p=0.17, d=0.51, CI[-0.21,1.24]).

Although the E-Motion results suggest possible MND-associated deficits in understanding body language, interpreting data from this task is significantly limited because the E-Motion task has not yet been formally validated. In particular, the E-Motion task requires formal development and validation studies. These studies would be required to quantify its performance across internal, external and content validity metrics to allow firmer conclusions to made. Findings from the E-Motion task should not be over-interpreted, and should be regarded as provisional and exploratory. Further research on tool development and replicating findings will be needed to advance the evidence-base in this area. The results of the validated ECAS social cognition test suggest that some individuals with MND may develop difficulties in understanding the emotions of others. This finding is in accordance with previous research in this area. Further research in larger sample sizes and subtypes of MND are required to ascertain whether ToM deficits are prevalent in the wider MND population.

Item Type: Thesis (D Clin Psy)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Motor neuron disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, theory of mind, social cognition, body movement.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Colleges/Schools: College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Health & Wellbeing > Mental Health and Wellbeing
Supervisor's Name: Evans, Prof. Jonathan
Date of Award: 2019
Depositing User: Miss Iona Walker
Unique ID: glathesis:2019-75106
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 11:22
Last Modified: 15 Aug 2022 07:22
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.75106

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