Behavioral evidence for an impairment of affective theory of mind capabilities in chronic depression
Authors: Mattern M, Walter H, Hentze C, Schramm E, Drost S, Schoepf D, Fangmeier T, Normann C, Zobel I, Schnell K
CellNetworks People: Schnell Knut
Journal: Psychopathology. 2015;48(4):240-50. doi: 10.1159/000430450.


The only treatment specifically developed for chronic depression, the Cognitive Behavioral Analysis System of Psychotherapy (CBASP), is based amongst others on the hypothesis that chronically depressed patients (CD) show considerable deficits of affective theory of mind (ToM) capabilities. Data are scarce, however, and it remains unclear if ToM deficits are specific or if they arise from global cognitive deficits associated with depression. This study investigates the specific deficits of affective ToM abilities in CD.

ToM abilities were assessed in 26 medication-free CD and 26 matched healthy controls (HC) by means of a previously established false-belief ToM cartoon task. Since the task allowed an intern control for cognitive factors - operationalized in a visuospatial ToM task - it was possible to investigate specific affective ToM deficits.

As hypothesized, the CD showed a significant specific slowdown of affective ToM compared to cognitive ToM (3rd person perspective) when compared to HC. Simultaneously, we observed a general deterioration of all ToM functions in CD.

This study provides evidence that CD have a mentalization deficit, specifically for affective ToM functions. This deficit is combined with a general deterioration of ToM functions, most likely attributable to frequently described cognitive deficits in depression.