Facial expression recognition and emotion understanding in children after neonatal open-heart surgery for transposition of the great arteries

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Abstract

AIM

Theory of mind impairments are part of the cognitive morbidities associated with transposition of the great arteries (TGA). We sought to assess core components of social cognition in school-aged children with TGA.

METHOD

Thirty-eight children with neonatal corrected TGA (27 males, 11 females; mean age 7y 3mo, SD 1y 2mo) and a comparison group (n=31; 24 males, 7 females; mean age 7y 4mo, SD 1y 1mo) participated in this study. All children completed measures of facial expression recognition, emotion comprehension, and second-order cognitive and affective false-belief tasks. The association of medical pre-, intra-, and postoperative variables with cognitive outcomes was explored.

RESULTS

After controlling for potential covariates, children with TGA performed significantly less accurately in the mental category of the emotion comprehension battery (p=0.002) and on second-order affective false-belief tasks (p<0.05). Preoperative variables including an associated ventricular septal defect (p=0.02), a younger age at open-heart surgery (p=0.03), and a prenatal diagnosis of TGA (p=0.02) were significantly associated with better outcomes.

INTERPRETATION

School-aged children with TGA display significant impairment on complex affective mental state understanding even though facial expression recognition was generally preserved. Preoperative factors may be important determinants for long-term outcomes after cyanotic congenital heart disease.

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