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Impaired recognition of happy facial expressions in bipolar disorder

  • Linette Lawlor-Savage (a1), Scott R. Sponheim (a2) (a3) and Vina M. Goghari (a1)



The ability to accurately judge facial expressions is important in social interactions. Individuals with bipolar disorder have been found to be impaired in emotion recognition; however, the specifics of the impairment are unclear. This study investigated whether facial emotion recognition difficulties in bipolar disorder reflect general cognitive, or emotion-specific, impairments. Impairment in the recognition of particular emotions and the role of processing speed in facial emotion recognition were also investigated.


Clinically stable bipolar patients (n = 17) and healthy controls (n = 50) judged five facial expressions in two presentation types, time-limited and self-paced. An age recognition condition was used as an experimental control.


Bipolar patients’ overall facial recognition ability was unimpaired. However, patients’ specific ability to judge happy expressions under time constraints was impaired.


Findings suggest a deficit in happy emotion recognition impacted by processing speed. Given the limited sample size, further investigation with a larger patient sample is warranted.


Corresponding author

Vina Goghari, PhD, Rpsych, Clinical Neuroscience of Schizophrenia Laboratory, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, AB, Canada T2N 1N4. Tel: +403 210 7344; Fax: +403 282 8249; E-mail:


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