According to research in a recent Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) study it was discovered that the patients went through problems decoding negative emotions in other people. This was as a result of altered activity in the brain regions linked to emotional recognition. On the other hand, patients who were subjected to social contacts often were able to make up for this neurologically.
ALS is known to not only impair motor abilities but also impact on cognition and emotional processing. The subjective ratings of emotional stimuli depicting social interactions and facial expressions are altered in ALS. Recognition of negative emotions and ability to mentalize other people’s motives is alleviated.
The study assessed the perception of emotional facial expressions in ALS at behavioural and brain metabolic level. A study that had been conducted earlier demonstrated that ALS patients experienced difficulties understanding emotions in other people. It therefore proposed that the complication could be attributed to microscopic changes in the brain.
The new study examined the mechanism underlying the problems using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) on the brains of AL S patients in comparison to healthy subjects. The imaging technique measures activity by detection of blood flow in the brain since blood flow increases in areas that are constantly engaged.
The 30 patients with ALS and 29 without ALS participated in an emotion recognition activity. Among them, 15 with ALS and 14 healthy subjects were also tested with fMRI. The participants were provided with images of faces expressing primary emotions of anger, disgust, fear, sadness, surprise, and happiness. All patients were allowed at least 6 months between their diagnosis and the test comparison with the matched healthy volunteers. To add on, they were screened for depression, which may have an effect on emotional processing abilities.
It was discovered that ALS patients had difficulties recognizing the negative emotions of disgust, fear, and sadness. When investigated with fMRI, researchers observed reduced activity in the brain regions that were responsible for processing those emotions. Depression was found at a greater extent in the ALS patients who also had additional difficulties with acknowledging angry and happy faces.
Going by the results from the study, the team gave the idea that a compensating mechanism occurs in ALS patients. In contrast, healthy individuals use memory retrieval to correctly and accurately categorize emotional expressions. The ALS patients may make up for the deficit with increased activity in the brain region engaged in mimicking facial expressions.
The researchers further noted that ALS patients with the highest activity level in the frontal gyrus of the brain also had the greatest frequency of social contacts. Considering the findings from the study, there was demonstration of evidence on the significance of including ALS patients in social interactions and allowing them to participate in social activities.
The researchers suggested that social contacts are a protective factor against cognitive decline in ALS patients. Therefore, going by this, neurodegenerative processes in the progression of ALS could be counteracted by positive emotional activity in social life of the patients.