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Let's Face It: Facial Emotion Processing Is Impaired in Bipolar Disorder

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 January 2014

Tamsyn Elizabeth Van Rheenen*
Brain and Psychological Sciences Research Centre, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre, Central Clinical School, Monash University and the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Susan Lee Rossell
Brain and Psychological Sciences Research Centre, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre, Central Clinical School, Monash University and the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Correspondence and reprint requests to: Tamsyn Van Rheenen, Cognitive Neuropsychiatry Lab, Monash Alfred Psychiatry research centre (MAPrc), Level 4, 607 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne, VIC 3004, Australia. E-mail:


Patients with bipolar disorder (BD) have difficulty in recognizing and discriminating facial emotions. However, beyond this broad finding, existing literature is equivocal about the specific nature of impairments, and progress toward adequately profiling facial emotion processing in BD is hampered by methodological inconsistencies. The current study aimed to advance the literature by comparing 50 BD patients and 52 controls on a series of facial emotion processing tasks. Results indicated that patients with BD had a small, yet consistent impairment in emotion processing overall. This impairment did not vary as a function of specific emotions, tasks, or intensities between groups, and was not influenced by current mood state. These results suggest that past inconsistencies in the literature are unlikely to be attributable to task related artifacts influencing the estimation of an effect. These findings add to our understanding of social cognition in BD, and have important implications for clinicians treating patients with the disorder. (JINS, 2014, 20, 1–9)

Research Articles
Copyright © The International Neuropsychological Society 2014 

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