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Impact of brain tumour location on emotion and personality: a voxel-based lesion–symptom mapping study on mentalization processes

Fabio Campanella, Tim Shallice, Tamara Ius, Franco Fabbro, Miran Skrap
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/awu183 2532-2545 First published online: 15 July 2014


Patients affected by brain tumours may show behavioural and emotional regulation deficits, sometimes showing flattened affect and sometimes experiencing a true ‘change’ in personality. However, little evidence is available to the surgeon as to what changes are likely to occur with damage at specific sites, as previous studies have either relied on single cases or provided only limited anatomical specificity, mostly reporting associations rather than dissociations of symptoms. We investigated these aspects in patients undergoing surgery for the removal of cerebral tumours. We argued that many of the problems described can be ascribed to the onset of difficulties in one or more of the different levels of the process of mentalizing (i.e. abstracting and reflecting upon) emotion and intentions, which impacts on everyday behaviour. These were investigated in terms of (i) emotion recognition; (ii) Theory of Mind; (iii) alexithymia; and (iv) self-maturity (personality disorder). We hypothesized that temporo/limbic areas would be critical for processing emotion and intentions at a more perceptual level, while frontal lobe structures would be more critical when higher levels of mentalization/abstraction are required. We administered four different tasks, Task 1: emotion recognition of Ekman faces; Task 2: the Eyes Test (Theory of Mind); Task 3: Toronto Alexithymia Scale; and Task 4: Temperament and Character Inventory (a personality inventory), both immediately before and few days after the operation for the removal of brain tumours in a series of 71 patients (age range: 18–75 years; 33 female) with lesions located in the left or right frontal, temporal and parietal lobes. Lobe-based and voxel-based analysis confirmed that tasks requiring interpretation of emotions and intentions at more basic (less mentalized) levels (Tasks 1 and 2) were more affected by temporo/insular lesions, with emotion recognition (Task 1) being maximally impaired by anterior temporal and amygdala lesions and Task 2 (found to be a ‘basic’ Theory of Mind task involving only limited mentalization) being mostly impaired by posterior temporoparietal lesions. Tasks relying on higher-level mentalization (Tasks 3 and 4) were maximally affected by prefrontal lesions, with the alexithymia scale (Task 3) being mostly associated with anterior/medial lesions and the self-maturity measure (Task 4) with lateral prefrontal ones.

  • brain tumours
  • personality
  • alexithymia
  • Theory of Mind
  • emotion recognition
  • Abbreviations
    prefrontal cortex
    Toronto Aleithymia Scale (20 items)
    Temperament and Character Inventory
    voxel-based lesion–symptom mapping
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