The degree of Openness to Experiences reported by patients with bipolar disorder could be used to identify potential candidates requiring more comprehensive cognitive assessments, US researchers report.
They found that Openness to Experiences, particularly Openness to Ideas, correlated significantly with measures of cognitive function in their study of 283 patients with bipolar disorder and 110 mentally healthy controls.
Therefore “low Openness to Ideas scores (e.g., below the 9th percentile) may serve as an additional indication to refer [bipolar disorder] patients for whom cognitive functioning is a clinical concern to a specialty cognitive evaluation”, write Deborah Stringer and colleagues, from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
In addition to Openness, the researchers assessed Neuroticism, Extraversion, Conscientiousness and Agreeableness using the 240-item self-reported NEO Personality Inventory – Revised. They also measured cognitive variables such as attention, executive functioning, memory and fine motor skills.
Contrary to expectations, Neuroticism and Extraversion were not significant predictors of cognition in either the patients or controls, even though scores for both of these personality traits were significantly lower in the patients than in the controls.
In fact, Openness was the only personality trait that correlated significantly with any cognitive factor in both patients and controls.
Among the patients, Openness to Ideas correlated with seven of the eight measures of cognitive function – visual and verbal memory, emotion processing, verbal fluency/processing speed, conceptual reasoning/set shifting, processing speed/interference resolution and inhibitory control. There was no correlation with fine motor score.
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Openness to Values correlated significantly with five of the eight cognitive factor scores (all but visual memory, conceptual reasoning/set shifting and inhibitory control) while Openness to Fantasy, Feelings and Action each correlated with two to three cognitive factor scores. The final Openness facet, Openness to Aesthetics was not associated with any measure of cognitive function.
In the control group there was moderate, but still significant, correlation between emotion processing and Openness to both Ideas and Values and between fine motor score and Openness to Values.
In multivariate models, Openness to Ideas explained between 2.3% and 6.5% of variance in cognitive scores.
Writing in the Journal of Affective Disorders, Stringer and co-authors suggest that “[i]nterventions designed to encourage novel experiences and an intellectual approach to existing interests are rational treatments for bipolar individuals with modest disruptions in cognitive functioning.”
However they caution that although Openness “is a useful predictor of cognitive functioning, its use does not extend across all the cognitive constructs […] measured, nor does the amount of variance it explains provide enough incremental predictive power to completely solve the problem of whom to refer for complete cognitive assessment.”
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