Disengagement of attention from facial emotion in unipolar depression

Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2005 Dec;59(6):723-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1819.2005.01443.x.


Abnormal processing of facial expressions is assumed to be an important factor mediating the course of depression. The aim of the present study was to investigate the ability to disengage attention from facial emotion in depressed patients in the course of an inpatient treatment program. It was hypothesized that in depression disengagement of visual attention from negative facial expression is delayed, while disengagement from positive facial expression is facilitated. A face-in-the-crowd task using schematic stimuli and crowds of neutral and emotion faces as 'distractor' stimuli was administered to depressed patients and normal controls matched for age, sex, and education. Patients with major depression (n=15) and normal controls (n=15) were tested twice, about 6 weeks apart. From test 1 to test 2, patients' depressivity decreased significantly. Depressives showed higher response latencies and error rates than control subjects. However, depressed patients exhibited the same scanning pattern for facial emotion as healthy individuals across both test sessions. Participants detected a negative face more rapidly in a crowd of faces than a positive face. When displays consisted of repetitions of the same face, subjects were generally slower (and less accurate) when faces were negative relative to positive or neutral. The present data suggest that the ability to disengage attention from facial emotion in visual search is not impaired in depression.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Reaction Time / physiology