Early life experiences and social cognition in major psychiatric disorders: a systematic review

Karolina I. Rokita, Maria R. Dauvermann, Gary Donohoe*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To present a systematic review of the literature on the associations between early social environment, early life adversity, and social cognition in major psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, major depressive disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. 

Method: Relevant studies were identified via electronic and manual searches of the literature and included articles written in English and published in peer-reviewed journals up to May 2018. Quality assessment was performed using the quality evaluation scale employed in previous systematic reviews. 

Results: A total of 25 studies were included in the systematic review with the quality assessment scores ranging from 3 to 6 (out of 6). The vast majority of the studies reviewed showed a significant association between early childhood social experience, including both insecure attachment and adversity relating to neglect or abuse, and poorer social cognitive performance. 

Conclusion: We discuss these findings in the context of an attachment model, suggesting that childhood social adversity may result in poor internal working models, selective attention toward emotional stimuli and greater difficulties with emotional self-regulation. We outline some of the steps required to translate this understanding of social cognitive dysfunction in major psychiatric disorders into a target for interventions that mitigate the adverse effects of childhood maltreatment and poor parental attachment on social cognition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-133
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Psychiatry
Early online date19 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by grants to GD from the European Research Council (ERC-2015-STG-677467) and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI-16/ERCS/3787).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier Masson SAS


  • Attachment
  • Early-life adversity
  • Environment
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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