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Discrimination and categorization of emotional facial expressions and faces in Parkinson's disease

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  • Correction added on 12th February 2014 after first online publication on 31st August 2013: Figures 1 and 2 have been replaced, to correct the order of elements and original faces used.

Abstract

Our objective was to compare the ability to discriminate and categorize emotional facial expressions (EFEs) and facial identity characteristics (age and/or gender) in a group of 53 individuals with Parkinson's disease (PD) and another group of 53 healthy subjects. On the one hand, by means of discrimination and identification tasks, we compared two stages in the visual recognition process that could be selectively affected in individuals with PD. On the other hand, facial expression versus gender and age comparison permits us to contrast whether the emotional or non-emotional content influences the configural perception of faces. In Experiment I, we did not find differences between groups, either with facial expression or age, in discrimination tasks. Conversely, in Experiment II, we found differences between the groups, but only in the EFE identification task. Taken together, our results indicate that configural perception of faces does not seem to be globally impaired in PD. However, this ability is selectively altered when the categorization of emotional faces is required. A deeper assessment of the PD group indicated that decline in facial expression categorization is more evident in a subgroup of patients with higher global impairment (motor and cognitive). Taken together, these results suggest that the problems found in facial expression recognition may be associated with the progressive neuronal loss in frontostriatal and mesolimbic circuits, which characterizes PD.

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