Negative biases in emotional processing are well recognised in people who are currently depressed but are less well described in those with a history of depression, where such biases may contribute to vulnerability to relapse.
To compare accuracy, discrimination and bias in face emotion recognition in those with current and remitted depression.
The sample comprised a control group (n = 101), a currently depressed group (n = 30) and a remitted depression group (n = 99). Participants provided valid data after receiving a computerised face emotion recognition task following standardised assessment of diagnosis and mood symptoms.
In the control group women were more accurate in recognising emotions than men owing to greater discrimination. Among participants with depression, those in remission correctly identified more emotions than controls owing to increased response bias, whereas those currently depressed recognised fewer emotions owing to decreased discrimination. These effects were most marked for anger, fear and sadness but there was no significant emotion × group interaction, and a similar pattern tended to be seen for happiness although not for surprise or disgust. These differences were confined to participants who were antidepressant-free, with those taking antidepressants having similar results to the control group.
Abnormalities in face emotion recognition differ between people with current depression and those in remission. Reduced discrimination in depressed participants may reflect withdrawal from the emotions of others, whereas the increased bias in those with a history of depression could contribute to vulnerability to relapse. The normal face emotion recognition seen in those taking medication may relate to the known effects of antidepressants on emotional processing and could contribute to their ability to protect against depressive relapse.