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The diagnosis of certain psychiatric syndromes (e.g. panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder) is crucially dependent on the psychosocial context in which they arise. For other syndromes (e.g. schizophrenia), the context is generally irrelevant. Should the diagnosis of major depression (MD) be made dependent upon or independent of the psychosocial context in which it occurs?
Twins were selected from a population-based registry who, on personal interview, reported developing a full depressive syndrome either ‘out of the blue’ or in response to stressful life events (SLEs) rated objectively as having mild, low moderate, high moderate or severe long-term contextual threat (LTCT).
In these depressed subjects, no relationship was found between the level of adversity associated with onset and most indices of liability to depression, including risk of MD in co-twin and parents, level of neuroticism, risk for future depressive episodes, co-morbidity with other internalizing disorders and history of sexual abuse. Compared to the remainder of this epidemiologic cohort, subjects developing depression in response to the severe threat events had substantially elevated levels of all the examined indices of liability to MD.
Individuals who develop a full depressive syndrome in response to high-threat events do not have an appreciably lower liability to MD than those developing depression after exposure to low adversity and have much higher liability to depression than observed in their population cohort. These results support the hypothesis that, in general, MD can be diagnosed independently of the psychosocial context in which it arises.
While the role of genetic factors in self-report measures of emotion has been frequently studied, we know little about the degree to which genetic factors influence emotional facial expressions.
Twenty-eight pairs of monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins from the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart were shown three emotion-inducing films and their facial responses recorded. These recordings were blindly scored by trained raters. Ranked correlations between twins were calculated controlling for age and sex.
Twin pairs were significantly correlated for facial expressions of general positive emotions, happiness, surprise and anger, but not for general negative emotions, sadness, or disgust or average emotional intensity. MZ pairs (n=18) were more correlated than DZ pairs (n=10) for most but not all emotional expressions.
Since these twin pairs had minimal contact with each other prior to testing, these results support significant genetic effects on the facial display of at least some human emotions in response to standardized stimuli. The small sample size resulted in estimated twin correlations with very wide confidence intervals.
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