Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society

Research Articles

Perception of Biological Motion and Emotion in Mild Cognitive Impairment and Dementia

Julie D. Henrya1 c1, Claire Thompsona2, Peter G. Rendella3, Louise H. Phillipsa4, Jessica Carberta5, Perminder Sachdeva6a7 and Henry Brodatya6a8

a1 School of Psychology, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland

a2 School of Psychology, James Cook University, Singapore

a3 School of Psychology, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Victoria

a4 School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland

a5 School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales

a6 Brain and Ageing Research Program, School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales

a7 Neuropsychiatric Institute, Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, New South Wales

a8 Dementia Collaborative Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales


Participants diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), dementia and controls completed measures that required decoding emotions from point-light displays of bodily motion, and static images of facial affect. Both of these measures tap social cognitive processes that are considered critical for social competency. Consistent with prior literature, both clinical groups were impaired on the static measure of facial affect recognition. The dementia (but not the MCI) group additionally showed difficulties interpreting biological motion cues. However, this did not reflect a specific deficit in decoding emotions, but instead a more generalized difficulty in processing visual motion (both to action and to emotion). These results align with earlier studies showing that visual motion processing is disrupted in dementia, but additionally show for the first time that this extends to the recognition of socially relevant biological motion. The absence of any MCI related impairment on the point-light biological emotion measure (coupled with deficits on the measure of facial affect recognition) also point to a potential disconnect between the processes implicated in the perception of emotion cues from static versus dynamic stimuli. For clinical (but not control) participants, performance on all recognition measures was inversely correlated with level of semantic memory impairment. (JINS, 2012, 18, 1–8)

(Received December 15 2011)

(Revised April 19 2012)

(Accepted April 19 2012)


c1 Correspondence and reprint requests to: Julie D. Henry, School of Psychology, University of Queensland, St Lucia QLD 4072 Australia. E-mail: