Cross-cultural comparison of theory of mind deficits in patients with schizophrenia from China and Denmark: different aspects of ToM show different results

Introduction: Theory of mind (ToM) has been established as one of the most investigated and pronounced social cognitive deficits in schizophrenia. Yet, knowledge on whether measures of ToM can be used and compared across cultures is sparse. In this study, we used two simple, non-verbal ToM tests in patients with schizophrenia and non-clinical controls from China and Denmark to investigate whether culture has an impact on ToM performance.

Methods: Sixty-six patients with schizophrenia (35 Chinese) and 67 matched non-clinical controls (38 Chinese) from China and Denmark were tested with Brünés Picture Sequencing Task and Animated Triangles Task. We compared three models for each outcome variable in order to investigate which model best fitted the data: the first model included group (controls, patients) as a predictor variable, the second included group and nationality (Chinese, Danish), and the third included both predictors and their interaction.

Results: On most ToM subtests, culture seemed to play a role. Only performance on Brüne’s 1st order ToM were best described as similar in both countries. The second model had the best fit for most of the subtests indicating that the difference between patients and controls in China and Denmark, respectively, is similar.

Conclusions: Caution to cultural differences should be taken when comparing ToM in Asian and Western patients with schizophrenia as well as healthy individuals.