Social cognition and psychopathology in an evolutionary perspective. Current status and proposals for research
Brune M.
Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy,
Ruhr University of Bochum, Germany.
Psychopathology 2001 Mar-Apr;34(2):85-94


The phylogenetic and ontogenetic developments of social cognition have been a major research focus of evolutionary and developmental psychology. Theory of mind or so-called Machiavellian intelligence, that is the capacity to infer mental states of other individuals and to manipulate them in order to maximise social success, probably emerged due to the need to cope with an increasingly complex social environment. Studies on social reasoning suggest disturbances of mental state attribution in psychiatric disorders. However, apart from autism spectrum disorders, the systematic evaluation of social cognition is still in its infancy, and the present data are ambiguous due to methodological difficulties. Based on the concept of the modular organisation of the mind, a stepwise investigation of social cognition in psychiatric disorders is proposed, including clinical description and available standardised methods. The specific characteristics of psychiatric disorders in respect of social cognition, therefore, may vary according to the hierarchical organisation of the social module. Systematic studies on social reasoning processes in psychiatric disorders may provide new insights also useful for the development of coping strategies in cognitive-behavioural therapy.

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