Banner graphic

Helen Genova on Cognitive Issues in the Brain

In this episode of Kessler Foundation's podcast, we are talking with Helen Genova, PhD. She is the assistant director at the Center for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research. She spoke about cognitive issues in the brain. 

Listen to the podcast, view the transcript and download this episode and others for free on Apple PodcastsSoundCloudPodbean, or where ever you get your podcasts.

Below is an excerpt from the conversation.

Rob Gerth: So you do a lot of work studying cognitive issues in patients and subjects, especially around the topic of MS, multiple sclerosis. First, define what that means, cognitive issues. What are you looking at?

Helen Genova: Sure. So cognition is literally any process that's going on in your brain that helps you think, make decisions, do things. So for example, if you are reading the newspaper, that's a cognitive process. If you're deciding whether you're going to have turkey or chicken for dinner, that's a cognitive process. So literally anything you do during the day that involves thinking is a cognitive issue. And people with MS tend to have certain cognitive problems. So slowed thinking, they'll tell you, "I just don't think as quickly as I used to. Things seem to be sort of slow for me." Executive functioning problems, so having trouble with deciding between one thing to do versus another, trying to inhibit something that they should be inhibiting, and attention, memory. So all of these problems seem to be impacted by multiple sclerosis.


RG: And we don't know why.

HG: Well, we do know that it's due to neuropathology. I think that there's a lot of issues concerning the white matter tracts in the brain just being attacked by the immune system. And so that is definitely a contributor, but I don't think we have a full understanding of why they experience the deficits that they have.


RG: And then what is-- tell me if I'm asking or repeating the question. But social cognition, is that a different piece of this?

HG: Yes. Absolutely. So social cognition are the mental processes having to do with navigating your social world. So right now you and I are talking, and if I were to smile at you, you would smile back. If I were to shake my head no at you or look upset, then you would respond appropriately. So it's literally any type of process in the brain having to do with your interactions with someone else. It can be understanding the emotions on somebody's face. So if you walk into a restaurant and you see your friend is waiting for you at dinner and they're looking angrily at their watch and looking back at you, you might say, "Oh, I'm sorry I'm late." And it's also understanding the beliefs and the thoughts of other people. So for example, if somebody-- let's say you stepped on someone's foot, and they said, "Oh, gee, thanks." You know because you understand what they're feeling that they're not truly thanking you. That's their way of being sarcastic. But that is actually a skill that can be impaired in people with MS in terms of understanding other people's emotions or what other people are truly feeling. That is something that can be impaired in MS and other clinical disorders. So that's the area that I really focus on now, is social cognition.