Masked ambiguity - Emotion identification in schizophrenia and major depressive disorder

Psychiatry Res. 2018 Dec;270:852-860. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2018.10.042. Epub 2018 Oct 28.


Both patients with schizophrenia and with a major depressive disorder (MDD) display deficits in identifying facial expressions of emotion during acute phases of their illness. However, specific deficit patterns have not yet been reliably demonstrated. Tasks that employ emotionally ambiguous stimuli have recently shown distinct deficit patterns in patients with schizophrenia compared to other mental disorders as well as healthy controls. We here investigate whether a task which uses an ambiguous Japanese (Noh) mask and a corresponding human stimulus generates distinctive emotion attribution patterns in thirty-two Caucasian patients with schizophrenia, matched MDD patients and healthy controls. Results show that patients with schizophrenia displayed reaction time disadvantages compared to healthy controls while identifying sadness and anger. MDD patients were more likely to label stimuli with basic compared to subtle emotional expressions. Moreover, they showed more difficulties assigning emotions to the human stimulus than to the Noh mask. IQ, age and cognitive functioning did not modulate these results. Because overall group differences were not observed, this task is not suitable for diagnosing patients. However, the subtle differences that did emerge might give therapists handles that can be used in therapy.

Keywords: Culture; Emotions; Facial expressions; Major depression; Schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology*
  • Emotions*
  • Facial Expression
  • Facial Recognition*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reaction Time
  • Schizophrenic Psychology*