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Processing of Facial Emotion in Bipolar Depression and Euthymia

  • Lucy J. Robinson (a1), John M. Gray (a2), Mike Burt (a3), I. Nicol Ferrier (a2) and Peter Gallagher (a2) (a4)...

Previous studies of facial emotion processing in bipolar disorder (BD) have reported conflicting findings. In independently conducted studies, we investigate facial emotion labeling in euthymic and depressed BD patients using tasks with static and dynamically morphed images of different emotions displayed at different intensities. Study 1 included 38 euthymic BD patients and 28 controls. Participants completed two tasks: labeling of static images of basic facial emotions (anger, disgust, fear, happy, sad) shown at different expression intensities; the Eyes Test (Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Hill, Raste, & Plumb, 2001), which involves recognition of complex emotions using only the eye region of the face. Study 2 included 53 depressed BD patients and 47 controls. Participants completed two tasks: labeling of “dynamic” facial expressions of the same five basic emotions; the Emotional Hexagon test (Young, Perret, Calder, Sprengelmeyer, & Ekman, 2002). There were no significant group differences on any measures of emotion perception/labeling, compared to controls. A significant group by intensity interaction was observed in both emotion labeling tasks (euthymia and depression), although this effect did not survive the addition of measures of executive function/psychomotor speed as covariates. Only 2.6–15.8% of euthymic patients and 7.8–13.7% of depressed patients scored below the 10th percentile of the controls for total emotion recognition accuracy. There was no evidence of specific deficits in facial emotion labeling in euthymic or depressed BD patients. Methodological variations—including mood state, sample size, and the cognitive demands of the tasks—may contribute significantly to the variability in findings between studies. (JINS, 2015, 21, 709–721)

Corresponding author
Correspondence and reprint requests to: Peter Gallagher, Institute of Neuroscience & Newcastle University Institute for Ageing, Henry Wellcome Building, Framlington Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4HH, UK. E-mail:
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