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Inability to process social emotions points to neurodegenerative disease


Narrator:       This is Science Today. An inability to process social emotions like embarrassment may be an early sign of frontotemporal dementia, or FTD. A University of California, San Francisco, study found that FTD patients experience much less embarrassment than healthy subjects — even though other basic emotions remained intact.

Sturm:           We think that something about embarrassment is particularly vulnerable because there's this evaluative component to self-conscious emotions that make them different from other emotions like sadness or fear or surprise. They rely upon these frontal systems that require self-reflection and placing self in a social context.

Narrator:       Researcher Virginia Sturm explains that the area of the brain that registers social emotions is one of first affected by FTD.

Sturm:           We hope that by having a better understanding of the neuroanatomy of self conscious emotion like embarrassment, which we know is disrupted in frontotemporal dementia, that people out there will bring that to the attention of their doctors and also go see specialists. 

Narrator:       For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.