Face Processing in Chronic Alcoholism: A Specific Deficit for Emotional Features

Authors

  • P. Maurage,

    1. From the Cognitive Neurosciences and Clinical Psychology Research units (PM, PP, SM), Department of Psychology, Catholic University of Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium; Department of Psychiatry (SC), Brugmann Hospital, Free University of Brussels, Belgium; and Department of Psychiatry (PT), St Luc Hospital, Catholic University of Louvain, Brussels, Belgium.
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  • S. Campanella,

    1. From the Cognitive Neurosciences and Clinical Psychology Research units (PM, PP, SM), Department of Psychology, Catholic University of Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium; Department of Psychiatry (SC), Brugmann Hospital, Free University of Brussels, Belgium; and Department of Psychiatry (PT), St Luc Hospital, Catholic University of Louvain, Brussels, Belgium.
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  • P. Philippot,

    1. From the Cognitive Neurosciences and Clinical Psychology Research units (PM, PP, SM), Department of Psychology, Catholic University of Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium; Department of Psychiatry (SC), Brugmann Hospital, Free University of Brussels, Belgium; and Department of Psychiatry (PT), St Luc Hospital, Catholic University of Louvain, Brussels, Belgium.
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  • S. Martin,

    1. From the Cognitive Neurosciences and Clinical Psychology Research units (PM, PP, SM), Department of Psychology, Catholic University of Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium; Department of Psychiatry (SC), Brugmann Hospital, Free University of Brussels, Belgium; and Department of Psychiatry (PT), St Luc Hospital, Catholic University of Louvain, Brussels, Belgium.
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  • P. De Timary

    1. From the Cognitive Neurosciences and Clinical Psychology Research units (PM, PP, SM), Department of Psychology, Catholic University of Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium; Department of Psychiatry (SC), Brugmann Hospital, Free University of Brussels, Belgium; and Department of Psychiatry (PT), St Luc Hospital, Catholic University of Louvain, Brussels, Belgium.
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Reprint requests: Pierre Maurage, Université catholique de Louvain, Faculté de Psychologie, Unité NESC, Place du Cardinal Mercier, 10, B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium; Fax: 32-10-473774; E-mail: pierre.maurage@uclouvain.be

Abstract

Background:  It is well established that chronic alcoholism is associated with a deficit in the decoding of emotional facial expression (EFE). Nevertheless, it is still unclear whether this deficit is specifically for emotions or due to a more general impairment in visual or facial processing. This study was designed to clarify this issue using multiple control tasks and the subtraction method.

Methods:  Eighteen patients suffering from chronic alcoholism and 18 matched healthy control subjects were asked to perform several tasks evaluating (1) Basic visuo-spatial and facial identity processing; (2) Simple reaction times; (3) Complex facial features identification (namely age, emotion, gender, and race). Accuracy and reaction times were recorded.

Results:  Alcoholic patients had a preserved performance for visuo-spatial and facial identity processing, but their performance was impaired for visuo-motor abilities and for the detection of complex facial aspects. More importantly, the subtraction method showed that alcoholism is associated with a specific EFE decoding deficit, still present when visuo-motor slowing down is controlled for.

Conclusion:  These results offer a post hoc confirmation of earlier data showing an EFE decoding deficit in alcoholism by strongly suggesting a specificity of this deficit for emotions. This may have implications for clinical situations, where emotional impairments are frequently observed among alcoholic subjects.

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