Although less severe, patients with bipolar disorder share many of the same cognitive difficulties as patients with schizophrenia — including problems with identifying facial expressions, emotions and facial gender, according to a new study.
Past research has shown that people with schizophrenia have clear cognitive deficits with respect to emotional perception.
Individuals with bipolar share many of the same genetic and environmental risk factors as those with schizophrenia, yet it has been unclear whether or not they share the same functional impairments.
To investigate this further, Jonathan K. Wynn, Ph.D., of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System in California recently conducted a study which included 30 patients with schizophrenia, 57 with bipolar, and 30 with no history of any mental health problem.
About half of the participants with bipolar were on antipsychotic medication during the study. Wynn showed the participants pictures of faces displaying emotions of fear, sadness, happiness, anger, or disgust.
He then had had them look at neutral facial expressions. The participants were instructed to identify the emotion on the first experiment and the gender of the face on the second experiment.
The patients with schizophrenia had the hardest time correctly identifying the facial expressions. The participants with bipolar identified the emotions more accurately, but took much longer to do so. And when they did, their scores were still much lower than the control group’s results.
When Wynn evaluated gender recognition abilities, he found again that both bipolar and schizophrenic patients had problems recognizing facial gender. These results were similar for both the bipolar patients who were taking medication and those who were not.
“Schizophrenia patients show deficits at multiple stages of facial affect processing whereas the deficits in bipolar disorder seem to be less severe and appear at the later stage of affect decoding,” said Wynn.
Despite those differences, the study clearly shows that people with bipolar can face challenges in social settings due to delays and impairments in cognitive processing.
Source: Psychological Medicine