Mistakes in interpersonal perceptions: Social cognition in aggressive forensic psychiatry patients Academic Article uri icon

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  • Background

    While there is an established link between untreated psychosis and aggression, an enhanced understanding of the role of social cognition is still needed.


    To examine social cognitive functioning among patients in a specialist forensic mental health service who had been deemed not criminally responsible for acts of violence due to a psychotic disorder. It was hypothesised, first, that such patients would show reduced social cognitive functioning compared with healthy, nonviolent comparison participants and, second, that those who continued to be aggressive while inpatients would demonstrate significant reductions compared to the now nonaggressive group.


    The study samples were of 10 recently aggressive and 15 not-recently aggressive patients and 20 healthy, nonviolent comparison participants. Each completed the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire (TEQ), the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test-Revised (RMET) and the Interpersonal Perception Task-15 (IPT-15).


    There was no significance between group differences on the RMET and TEQ. The patient group as a whole, however, showed significant interpersonal misperceptions, with specific misperceptions on IPT-15 deception and kinship subscales, while at the same time lacking self-awareness of their errors. Misperceptions on the IPT-15 competition subscale were unique to recently aggressive patients.


    Select aspects of reduced social cognitive functioning were found among not criminally responsible patients with psychosis who had committed violent acts and who continued to act aggressively while forensic inpatients. These findings enhance our understanding of the role of social cognition in predisposing toward violence and the potential importance of incorporating interventions which improve social cognition directly. We suggest also the potential for future research using virtual reality technologies in treatment.

publication date

  • February 2022