Emotion recognition in frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer's disease: A new film-based assessment

Emotion. 2015 Aug;15(4):416-27. doi: 10.1037/a0039261. Epub 2015 May 25.


Deficits in recognizing others' emotions are reported in many psychiatric and neurological disorders, including autism, schizophrenia, behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) and Alzheimer's disease (AD). Most previous emotion recognition studies have required participants to identify emotional expressions in photographs. This type of assessment differs from real-world emotion recognition in important ways: Images are static rather than dynamic, include only 1 modality of emotional information (i.e., visual information), and are presented absent a social context. Additionally, existing emotion recognition batteries typically include multiple negative emotions, but only 1 positive emotion (i.e., happiness) and no self-conscious emotions (e.g., embarrassment). We present initial results using a new task for assessing emotion recognition that was developed to address these limitations. In this task, respondents view a series of short film clips and are asked to identify the main characters' emotions. The task assesses multiple negative, positive, and self-conscious emotions based on information that is multimodal, dynamic, and socially embedded. We evaluate this approach in a sample of patients with bvFTD, AD, and normal controls. Results indicate that patients with bvFTD have emotion recognition deficits in all 3 categories of emotion compared to the other groups. These deficits were especially pronounced for negative and self-conscious emotions. Emotion recognition in this sample of patients with AD was indistinguishable from controls. These findings underscore the utility of this approach to assessing emotion recognition and suggest that previous findings that recognition of positive emotion was preserved in dementia patients may have resulted from the limited sampling of positive emotion in traditional tests.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Frontotemporal Dementia / psychology*
  • Happiness
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motion Pictures*
  • Psychological Tests*