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Keywords:

  • Alcohol;
  • emotion;
  • empathy;
  • face;
  • mirror neurone;
  • music;
  • theory of mind;
  • voice

Abstract

Aim

To test the generalized emotional decoding impairment hypothesis in alcoholism.

Design

Cross-sectional behavioural study comparing emotion recognition conveyed by faces, voices and musical excerpts.

Setting

Alcohol detoxification unit of Brugmann University Hospital.

Participants

Twenty-five recently detoxified alcohol-dependent patients were compared to 25 normal controls matched for sex, age and educational level.

Measurements

From faces, voices and musical excerpts, participants were instructed to rate the intensity of several emotions on a scale from 0 for ‘absent’ to 9 for ‘highly present’. Depression, anxiety and sustained/selective attention capacities were controlled for.

Findings

Alcohol-dependent patients were less accurate than controls in identifying the target emotion in faces (P < 0.001), voices (P < 0.001) and musical excerpts (P < 0.001).

Conclusions

Alcohol-dependent patients who are completing detoxification are impaired in recognizing emotions conveyed by faces, voices and music; these results suggest a generalized emotional decoding impairment. Hypothetically, deficits in the fronto-parietal mirror neurone system could link all these disturbances together.