Youth with bipolar disorder misread facial expressions as hostile

A National Institute of Mental Health press release (29 May) highlights newly published research indicating that

[…] youth with bipolar disorder misread facial expressions as hostile and show heightened neural reactions when they focus on emotional aspects of neutral faces” […] The study provides some of the first clues to the underlying workings of the episodes of mania and depression that disrupt friendships, school, and family life in up to one percent of children.

Brain scans showed that the left amygdala, a fear hub, and related structures, activated more in youth with the disorder than in healthy youth when asked to rate the hostility of an emotionally neutral face, as opposed to a non-emotional feature, such as nose width. The more patients misinterpreted the faces as hostile, the more their amygdala flared.

Such a face-processing deficit could help account for the poor social skills, aggression, and irritability that characterizes the disorder in children, suggest Drs. Ellen Leibenluft, Brendan Rich, Daniel Pine, NIMH Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, and colleagues, who report on their findings May 29, 2006 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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