Research Reports - Facial emotion recognition deficits following traumatic brain injury

J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2014 Nov;20(10):994-1003

Rosenberg H(1), McDonald S(1), Dethier M(2), Kessels RP(3), Westbrook RF(1)

Many individuals who sustain moderate-severe traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are
poor at recognizing emotional expressions, with a greater impairment in
recognizing negative (e.g., fear, disgust, sadness, and anger) than positive
emotions (e.g., happiness and surprise). It has been questioned whether this
"valence effect" might be an artifact of the wide use of static facial emotion
stimuli (usually full-blown expressions) which differ in difficulty rather than a
real consequence of brain impairment. This study aimed to investigate the valence
effect in TBI, while examining emotion recognition across different intensities
(low, medium, and high).METHOD: Twenty-seven individuals with TBI and 28 matched
control participants were tested on the Emotion Recognition Task (ERT). The TBI
group was more impaired in overall emotion recognition, and less accurate
recognizing negative emotions. However, examining the performance across the
different intensities indicated that this difference was driven by some emotions
(e.g., happiness) being much easier to recognize than others (e.g., fear and
surprise). Our findings indicate that individuals with TBI have an overall
deficit in facial emotion recognition, and that both people with TBI and control
participants found some emotions more difficult than others. These results
suggest that conventional measures of facial affect recognition that do not
examine variance in the difficulty of emotions may produce erroneous conclusions
about differential impairment. They also cast doubt on the notion that
dissociable neural pathways underlie the recognition of positive and negative
emotions, which are differentially affected by TBI and potentially other
neurological or psychiatric disorders.

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