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Are children with congenital cardiac malformations at increased risk of deficits in social cognition?

  • David C. Bellinger (a1)


In this review, I summarize observations suggesting that social cognition deficits are an important element of the neurodevelopmental morbidities of children with congenital cardiac malformations. Referred to as “theory of mind” deficits, they pertain to the ability to “read” other people, that is, to infer their internal states and thus to interpret their actions appropriately. I also hypothesize that children with such congenital cardiac malformations have difficulty identifying and describing their own internal states, which is referred to as alexithymia. These hypotheses are based on data collected as part of a prospective study of the neurologic outcomes of children with concordant atrioventricular and discordant ventriculo-arterial connections, or transposition. On a variety of tasks that assess pragmatic language and discourse skills, such as elicited personal narratives, free play with a parent, and written narratives, the children consistently performed below age-expected levels and in ways that suggested the presence of “theory of mind” deficits. Their narratives lacked coherence, failed to include critical information required by a listener, and made infrequent reference to internal states. In ongoing evaluations of the children as adolescents, we are testing these hypotheses more systematically by administering several instruments specifically developed to assess “theory of mind” and alexithymia.


Corresponding author

Correspondence to: David C. Bellinger, PhD, MSc, Children’s Hospital Boston, Farley Basement Box 127, 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston MA 02115, USA. Tel: +617 355-6565; Fax: +617 730-0618; E-mail:


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