Being able to accurately identify and process the emotions of others is critical to effective and harmonious social functioning. Interacting with others is based largely on perception and interpretation of another person’s emotional state and affect. Impairment in this area can lead to misinterpreted emotions and conflict. People with schizophrenia have been shown to have clear cognitive deficits with respect to emotional perception. Individuals with bipolar share many of the genetic and environmental risk factors as those with schizophrenia, yet it is unclear whether or not they share the same functional impairments.
To explore this further, Jonathan K. Wynn of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System in California recently conducted a study involving 30 individuals with schizophrenia, 57 with bipolar, and 30 with no history of any mental health problem. Approximately half of the participants with bipolar were on antipsychotic medication at the time of the study. Wynn exposed the participants to pictures of faces depicting emotions of fear, sadness, happiness, anger, or disgust. He then had had them look at neutral facial expressions. They were instructed to identify the emotion on the first experiment and the gender of the face on the second experiment.
The results revealed that the participants with schizophrenia had the most difficulty accurately identifying the facial expressions. The participants with bipolar identified the emotions more accurately, but took much longer to do so. And when they did, their results were still significantly lower than the control group’s results. When he assessed gender recognition abilities, Wynn found again that both bipolar and schizophrenic participants had deficits in recognizing facial gender. These results were similar for both the bipolar participants who were taking medication and those who were not. “Schizophrenia patients show deficits at multiple stages of facial affect processing whereas the deficits in bipolar disorder seem to be less severe and appear at the later stage of affect decoding,” said Wynn. Despite those differences, these findings clearly show that people with bipolar can face challenges in social settings due to delays and impairments in cognitive processing.
J, K. Wynn, et al. Event-related potential examination of facial affect processing in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Psychological Medicine 43.1 (2013): 109-17. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.
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