Interpersonal deficits meet cognitive biases: memory for facial expressions in depressed and anxious men and women

Psychiatry Res. 2002 Dec 30;113(3):279-93. doi: 10.1016/s0165-1781(02)00266-4.


Memory biases for negatively vs. positively valenced linguistic information in depression are well documented. However, no study so far has examined the relationship between depression and memory for facial expressions. We examined memory for neutral, happy, sad, and angry facial expressions in individuals suffering from comorbid depression and anxiety (COMs, N=23) or from anxiety disorders (ANXs, N=20) and in normal controls (NACs, N=23). Two main hypotheses were examined. First, we expected COMs, but not NACs, to exhibit an enhanced memory for sad and angry vs. happy expressions (negativity hypothesis). Second, we postulated that this bias would be specific to depression (disorder-specificity hypothesis). Data supported both these hypotheses. Specifically, COMs exhibited enhanced recognition of angry compared to happy expressions; in contrast, ANXs and NACs did not exhibit such enhancement. We also found that men showed a significantly better memory for angry vs. sad expressions, whereas women did not exhibit such a difference. The implications of these findings for the interpersonal processes involved in the maintenance of depression and anxiety are discussed.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety Disorders / complications*
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / complications*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology*
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / diagnosis
  • Memory Disorders / etiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires