Objectives: Hypomania in bipolar disorders is characterized by disinhibited, fearless and reward-seeking behavior. This behavioral pattern suggests that early and automatic responding to socio-emotional cues such as facial expressions might be aberrant in hypomania. The present study tested the predictions that participants selected on hypomania-like trait would show hypovigilant responses to facial cues of danger and increased responses to facial cues of reward.
Methods: From a group of 513, the 16 most trait-hypomanic individuals were selected by use of a shortened version of an established self-report instrument, the General Behavior Inventory (GBI). Their spatial-attentional responses after perception of dynamic fearful and happy facial gaze cues were compared with those of 12 controls.
Results: The group difference for full GBI hypomania scores was reliable (p = 0.000). Individuals with elevated hypomanic traits clearly demonstrated attentional hypovigilance after perception of fearful, laterally gazing faces (p = 0.009). In addition, unlike controls, they demonstrated reliable attentional responding to happy gaze cues (p = 0.007).
Conclusions: These data provide the first experimental evidence that hypomania-like trait is associated with hypovigilant, fearless responding to the social cue of an emotionally expressive gaze.