People With Severe Depression Have Difficultly Recognizing Disgust

A recent article entitled “Recognition of Disgusted Facial Expression in Severe Depression” published in the The British Journal of Psychiatry investigated the ability of individuals suffering from severe depression and their ability to recognize certain facial expressions of emotion.

The study which was conducted by researchers Katie Douglas and Professor Richard Porter of the University of Otago in New Zealand, asked 68 individuals suffering from severe depression to participate in a facial expression recognition study.The individuals were shown a total of 96 faces expressing 5 different emotions: anger, sadness, fear, disgust and happiness. They also were shown a series of neutral facial expressions. Their ability to label these expressions were compared to the ability of a control group comprised of 50 healthy individuals

According to the abstract of the study, “A negative interpretation bias was observed in the depression group: neutral faces were more likely to be interpreted as sad and less likely to be interpreted as happy, compared with controls. The depression group also displayed a specific deficit in the recognition of facial expressions of disgust, compared with controls”.

In sum, the researchers found that the healthy control group was much better at recognizing facial expressions of disgust compared to the severely depressed individuals.

Professor Porter suggests in an article written by the University of Otago that there may be various reasons as to why individuals suffering from depression have difficulty recognizing disgust. He suggests that it is possible that the ability to recognize disgust may be correlated with dopamine dysfunction. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that had many functions. Dopamine plays important roles in behavior and cognition, voluntary movement, motivation, punishment and reward. 

Professor Porter also suggests that when individuals are severely depressed, their ability to process emotions is affected, perhaps affecting their ability to recognize certain emotions.

Douglas and Porter’s findings are both interesting and informative. Their study was funded by the Tertiary Education Commission’s Top Achiever Doctoral Scholarship.

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