Decision making and Theory of Mind in Parkinson’s Disease.

Decision making and Theory of Mind in Parkinson’s Disease.

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a complex progressive neurodegenerative disorder that is characterised by the loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra. At the behavioural level individuals with PD are afflicted with a variety of symptoms. Core symptoms of PD include movement impairments (shaking, difficulty walking and rigidity) and at the latter stages, dementia, depression emotional problems and sleep disturbances are prevalent.


A recent study from China has investigated several novel aspects of PD, namely decision making (both ambiguous and risky) and Theory of Mind (ToM). For those that do not know ToM is the ability of an individual to attribute thoughts, feelings and other mental states to another person. It has long been known in the medical and academic communities that those with PD are often impaired in social interaction and that in the early stages of the disease some persons are impaired in ToM.

The current study from China had PD patients take part in two popular decision making tasks (Iowa Gambling Task and Game of Dice Task). In the tasks patients used probabilities of expected outcomes among several decks of cards and dice throws to make partially informed decisions.

The Chinese researchers found that their PD patients were impaired with affective (emotional) ToM and both ambiguous and risky decision making. The results were correlated with deficits of memory in the Iowa Gambling Task. This research suggests that affective ToM and ambiguous decision making may share similar neural mechanisms, whilst ambiguous and risky decision making may involve different neural networks.

Although this is not the first study to show impairments in decision making and Theory of Mind in PD this study goes some way to show that the two processes may be linked to one another. With every small piece of research and knowledge gained into PD the research community is able to understand more. With time and more research into conditions such as PD we can hope that we may one day be able to find an affective treatment for this condition that affects so many.

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Daniel Edgcumbe

I am studying towards my PhD in cognitive neuroscience at a leading London university

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