Fibromyalgia (FM) is a syndrome primarily characterised by chronic, widespread musculoskeletal pain. In the aetiology of this syndrome a crucial role is played by complex interactions among biological, genetic, psychological, and socio-cultural factors. Recently, researchers have started to explore emotional functioning in FM, with their attention focused on alexithymia, a personality construct that affects the regulation of a person’s own emotions. On the other hand, the detection and experience of emotional signals from other people have only been sparsely investigated in FM syndrome and no studies have investigated the ability to represent other people’s mental states (i.e. Theory of Mind, ToM) in these patients. Here we present the first study investigating a large set of social-cognitive abilities, and the possible relationships between these abilities and the performance on executive-function tasks, in a homogenous sample of patients with FM.
Forty women with FM and forty-one healthy women matched for education and age were involved in the study. Social cognition was assessed with a set of validated experimental tasks. Measures of executive function were used to test the correlations between this dimension and the social-cognitive profile of patients with FM. Relationships between social-cognitive abilities and demographic, clinical and psychological variables were also investigated.
Patients with FM have impairments both in the regulation of their own affect and in the recognition of other’s emotions, as well as in representing other people’s mental states. No significant correlations were found between social cognition tasks and the subcomponents of the executive function that were analysed.
The results show the presence of several impairments in social cognition skills in patients with FM, which are largely independent of both executive function deficits and symptoms of psychological distress. The impairments reported highlight the importance of adequately assessing ToM and emotional functioning in clinical practice.