Frontotemporal lobar degeneration and social behaviour: Dissociation between the knowledge of its consequences and its conceptual meaning

Roland Zahn*, Sophie Green, Helen Beaumont, Alistair Burns, Jorge Moll, Diana Caine, Alexander Gerhard, Paul Hoffman, Benjamin Shaw, Jordan Grafman, Matthew A. Lambon Ralph

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Inappropriate social behaviour is an early symptom of frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) in both behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) and semantic dementia (SD) subtypes. Knowledge of social behaviour is essential for appropriate social conduct. The superior anterior temporal lobe (ATL) has been identified as one key neural component for the conceptual knowledge of social behaviour, but it is unknown whether this is dissociable from knowledge of the consequences of social behaviour. Here, we used a newly-developed test of knowledge about long-term and short-term consequences of social behaviour to investigate its impairment in patients with FTLD relative to a previously-developed test of social conceptual knowledge. We included 19 healthy elderly control participants and 19 consecutive patients with features of bvFTD or SD and defined dissociations as performance differences between tasks for each patient (Bonferroni-corrected p < .05). Knowledge of long-term consequences was selectively impaired relative to short-term consequences in five patients and the reverse dissociation occurred in one patient. Six patients showed a selective impairment of social concepts relative to long-term consequences with the reverse dissociation occurring in one patient. These results corroborate the hypothesis that knowledge of long-term consequences of social behaviour is dissociable from knowledge of short-term consequences, as well as of social conceptual knowledge. Confirming our hypothesis, we found that patients with more marked grey matter (GM) volume loss in frontopolar relative to right superior ATL regions of interest exhibited poorer knowledge of the long-term consequences of social behaviour relative to the knowledge of its conceptual meaning and vice versa (n = 15). These findings support the hypothesis that frontopolar and ATL regions represent distinct aspects of social knowledge. This suggests that rather than being unable to suppress urges to behave inappropriately, FTLD patients often lose the knowledge of what appropriate social behaviour is and can therefore not be expected to behave accordingly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-118
Number of pages12
StatePublished - Aug 2017


  • Brodmann Area 10
  • Disinhibition
  • Frontal lobe
  • Impulsivity
  • Social behaviour

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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