Relationship between perception of facial emotions and anxiety in clinical depression: does anxiety-related perception predict persistence of depression?

J Affect Disord. 1997 May;43(3):213-23. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0327(97)01432-8.


Within the framework of interpersonal theories on depression, it was postulated 1) that an anxiety-related mood-congruent bias with respect to the perception of facial expressions could be demonstrated in clinically depressed patients: 2) that the perception of negative facial emotions would be associated with co-occurring anxiety levels rather than with depression, and 3) that the putative anxiety-related bias would predict the subsequent course of depression. Such relationships would support the possible causal role of negative biases for the persistence of depression. Thirty-nine depressed patients (thirty-six patients met the criteria for major depression, two had a dysthymic disorder and one patient suffered from a cyclothymic disorder) were studied. The patients judged schematic faces with respect to the emotions they express (fear, happiness, anger, sadness, disgust, surprise, rejection and invitation) at admission (T0), and after 6 (T1) and 30 (T2) weeks. Severity of depression (BDI) and anxiety (SCL-90) were assessed at these three points. We found considerable support for the first 2 hypotheses: a) The perception of negative emotions was related to anxiety but not to depression (at T0 this association was significant and at T1 and T2 tendencies were found); b) When the level of depression was controlled for, significant relationships remained (emerged) between anxiety and the perception of negative emotions at each of the three different time points; c) Anxiety and perception of negative emotions covaried within subjects when large changes in depression/anxiety were involved, i.e. after 30 weeks. This relationship disappeared when depression change was partialled out. The third hypothesis was not confirmed: The perception of negative emotions did not predict the course of depression. Although a direct relationship with depression persistence and a negative bias in the perception of interaction-relevant stimuli (i.e. facial emotions) in anxious depressed patients could not be found, the existence of such anxiety-related negative bias forms indirect evidence for the notion that this negative bias may mediate rejective attitudes of others towards depressives and consequently may contribute to an unfavorable course of depression.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Visual Perception*