Processing of Facial Emotions Differs in Bipolar and Schizophrenia

Bipolar (BD) and schizophrenia (SZ) have often been compared and contrasted in research. Each of these psychological conditions has its own set of unique symptoms, and yet they share some symptoms and risk factors. This overlap has led to extensive research on the differences and similarities between the two illnesses. Recently, neurological examinations have been used to assess how emotional processing and cognitive processes are impacted in a wide variety of mental health problems. But until now, few studies have directly examined how emotional processing differs in BD and SZ. To address this gap in literature and to extend the data on the most prominent distinction between SZ and BD, G. Delvecchio of the Department of Psychosis Studies at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College in London recently analyzed data from over 29 studies involving participants with SZ, and/or BD, and control subjects with no history of psychosis.

He examined MRI results and looked specifically at neural regions that impact facial emotional processing. He found that individuals with BD had overstimulation in the thalamus and amygdala/parahippocampus while SZ participants had decreased stimulation throughout all regions impacting facial emotion processing. This suggests impairment in emotional regulation in the BD group. “By contrast,” said Delvecchio, “Overactivation within visual processing regions coupled with reduced engagement of facial affect processing regions points to abnormal visual integration as the core underlying deficit in SZ.”

In sum, these results suggest a decrease in facial processing regions in people with SZ, compared to individuals with BD and control participants. Although these findings demonstrate neurological processes and deficits unique to BD and SZ, there are still similarities that exist on physiological, cognitive, and emotional levels. Understanding how neurological variations impact the other symptom domains of SZ and BD can help differentiate between the two illnesses and can better predict illness trajectories. Delvecchio hopes that future work explores all the facets relevant to BD and SZ more thoroughly in order to gain insight into the similarities and disparities of these two serious mental health issues.

Delvecchio, G., G. Sugranyes, and S. Frangou. (2013). Evidence of diagnostic specificity in the neural correlates of facial affect processing in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia: A meta-analysis of functional imaging studies. Psychological Medicine 43.3 (2013): 553-69. ProQuest. Web.

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  • RG

    April 29th, 2013 at 9:02 PM

    I do understand how these differences may help us better understand the impact and playing out if the two disorders…But would it help in the identification and diagnosis…?Because that stage could be crucial as well as difficult due to certain similarities…!

  • Bradford

    April 30th, 2013 at 3:43 AM

    I did not know that having problems with recognizing facial cues and emotions could be indicative of different mentalil lnesses. I guess that once you think about it it makes sense, but I would have never thought to out bipolar disorder in the same basket with schizophrenia. It seems likei have heard a lot more about how bipolar can be managed with medication while it is always assumed that schizophrenia isn’t that way, is maybe more resistent to management.

  • young'un

    April 30th, 2013 at 11:59 PM

    hard to even imagine how facial emotion processing being impaired would feel like.that would disrupt conversations and relationships in general I would guess.not a happy situation to be in.but at least we should try to help treat these people.

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