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In two minds: executive functioning versus theory of mind in behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia
  1. Maxime Bertoux1,2,
  2. Claire O'Callaghan3,
  3. Bruno Dubois2,
  4. Michael Hornberger1
  1. 1Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Cambridge, UK
  2. 2Institut de la Mémoire et de la Maladie d'Alzheimer, Hôpital de la Pitié-Salpêtrière, Université Paris VI, Paris, France
  3. 3Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Unit, University of Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr. Maxime Bertoux, Department of Clinical Neurosciencs, Herchel Smith Building, Forvie Site, Addenbrooke's hospital, Cambridge CB2 2PY, UK; mb2044{at}


Background The relationship of executive function (EF) and theory of mind (ToM) deficits in neurodegeneration is still debated. There is contradicting evidence as to whether these cognitive processes are overlapping or distinct, which has clear clinical relevance for the evaluation of their associated clinical symptoms.

Aim To investigate the relationship of EF and ToM deficits via a data-driven approach in a large sample of patients with behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD).

Methods Data of 46 patients with bvFTD were employed in a hierarchical cluster analysis to determine the similarity of variance between different EF measures (verbal abstraction, verbal initiation, motor programming, sensitivity to interference, inhibitory control, visual abstraction, flexibility, working memory/attention) and ToM (faux pas).

Results Overall results showed that EF measures were clustered separately from the ToM measure. A post hoc analysis revealed a more complex picture where selected ToM subcomponents (empathy; intention) showed a relationship to specific EF measures (verbal abstraction; working memory/attention), whereas the remaining EF and ToM subcomponents were separate.

Conclusions Taken together, these findings suggest that EF and ToM are distinct components; however, ToM empathy and intention subcomponents might share some functions with specific EF processes. This has important implications for guiding diagnostic assessment of these deficits in clinical conditions.


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