The study took 11 outpatients suffering with major depressive disorder (not on medication) and 11 healthy subjects all aged between 60 to 87. Both groups completed a series of tasks before the results were compared. One of the tasks involved looking at photographs of faces with happy, sad, fearful or neutral expressions. The patients were then asked to make judgements regarding a physical feature of the faces, instead of judging the expression.
The results showed that the depressed participants didn’t respond normally to this kind of emotional stimuli and were often unable to determine the difference between happy, sad or neutral faces, suggesting that they were less sensitive to the effects of positive or negative emotional expressions.
The depressed patients also had more than 60% increased difficultly labelling neutral faces compared to healthy subjects and they misread a higher percentage of expressions.
Principal investigator Dr. Linda Mah has noted that an impaired ability to read other people’s emotional expressions can have social consequences and affect the quality of social interactions with others.
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