The ability to decode emotions by reading peoples’ eyes, using the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET) was linked with poor memory function in patients with bipolar disorder (BD), especially in men, according to a study published by Psychiatry Research. Investigators note that BD deficits have been observed in patients’ ability to mentalize or identify cognitive and social emotions, a field called theory of mind (ToM).

The study included 116 euthymic patients with BD and 76 healthy control participants age 18 and 74 years recruited from the outpatient center of bipolar disorders at the Department of Psychiatry of the Medical University Graz. Patients had no history of substance abuse or other medical, psychiatric, or neurologic disorder. The mean age was 42.37, and 51.7% were women.

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Multivariate analyses controlling for age, premorbid IQ, and body mass index found significant group effects in attention and executive function tasks. When compared with women, men performed worse on the RMET. Data also showed worse RMET performance in patients with memory deficits compared with patients without memory deficits and controls.

Investigators found a relationship between ToM performance and verbal memory, which indicated that impaired ToM performance was only present in patients with BD who had memory deficits.

However, there were no group differences in verbal learning and memory and no significant differences in RMET performance between patients with BD and controls.

Investigators point out that “due to cross-sectional data, no conclusions can be made with respect to cause and effect.”

Reference

Dalkner N, Bengesser S, Birner A, et al. The relationship between “Eyes Reading” ability and verbal memory in bipolar disorder. Psychiatry Res. 2019;273:42-51.