Emotion Recognition and Traffic-Related Risk-Taking Behavior in Patients with Neurodegenerative Diseases

Nils S. van den Berg*, Fransje E. Reesink, Edward H. F. de Haan, Hubertus P. H. Kremer, Jacoba M. Spikman, Rients B. Huitema

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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OBJECTIVES: Neurodegenerative diseases (NDDs), such as Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and Huntington's disease, inevitably lead to impairments in higher-order cognitive functions, including the perception of emotional cues and decision-making behavior. Such impairments are likely to cause risky daily life behavior, for instance, in traffic. Impaired recognition of emotional expressions, such as fear, is considered a marker of impaired experience of emotions. Lower fear experience can, in turn, be related to risk-taking behavior. The aim of our study was to investigate whether impaired emotion recognition in patients with NDD is indeed related to unsafe decision-making in risky everyday life situations, which has not been investigated yet.

METHODS: Fifty-one patients with an NDD were included. Emotion recognition was measured with the Facial Expressions of Emotions: Stimuli and Test (FEEST). Risk-taking behavior was measured with driving simulator scenarios and the Action Selection Test (AST). Data from matched healthy controls were used: FEEST (n = 182), AST (n = 36), and driving simulator (n = 18).

RESULTS: Compared to healthy controls, patients showed significantly worse emotion recognition, particularly of anger, disgust, fear, and sadness. Furthermore, patients took significantly more risks in the driving simulator rides and the AST. Only poor recognition of fear was related to a higher amount of risky decisions in situations involving a direct danger.

CONCLUSIONS: To determine whether patients with an NDD are still fit to drive, it is crucial to assess their ability to make safe decisions. Measuring emotion recognition may be a valuable contribution to this judgment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-145
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the International Neuropsychological Society
Issue number2
Early online date19-Aug-2020
Publication statusPublished - Feb-2021

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