Noonan syndrome (NS) is a common genetic disorder, characterized by short stature, facial dysmorphia, congenital heart defects and a mildly lowered IQ. Impairments in psychosocial functioning have often been suggested, without, however, systematic investigation in a clinical group. In this study, different aspects of affective processing, social cognition and behaviour, in addition to personal well-being, were assessed in a large group of patients with NS.
Forty adult patients with NS were compared with 40 healthy controls, matched with respect to age, sex, intelligence and education level. Facial emotion recognition was measured with the Emotion Recognition Task (ERT), alexithymia with both the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) and the Bermond–Vorst Alexithymia Questionnaire (BVAQ), and mentalizing with the Theory of Mind (ToM) test. The Symptom Checklist-90 Revised (SCL-90-R) and the Scale for Interpersonal Behaviour (SIB) were used to record aspects of psychological well-being and social interaction.
Patients showed higher levels of cognitive alexithymia than controls. They also experienced more social distress, but the frequency of engaging in social situations did not differ. Facial emotion recognition was only slightly impaired.
Higher levels of alexithymia and social discomfort are part of the behavioural phenotype of NS. However, patients with NS have relatively intact perception of emotions in others and unimpaired mentalizing. These results provide insight into the underlying mechanisms of social daily life functioning in this patient group.
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