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Facial responses to facial expressions of emotion in dangerous and severe personality disorder

By Keith William Whittle


When people view facial expressions of emotion they tend to mimic or mirror the expression. According to Leventhal's perceptual-motor theory of emotion, this response\ud occurs when innate central motor programmes are activated. There is evidence that individuals with psychopathic traits have impaired autonomic responses to and recognition\ud of emotional expressions. There is further evidence that individuals who lack empathy show reduced mirroring to facial expressions of emotion. This research piloted a method to investigate the facial responses of a group of eleven prisoners on the Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder (DSPD) Programme at HMP Whitemoor. Participants in this group had elevated Psychopathy Checklist - Revised (PCL-R) scores (Mean = 28.4, SD = 3.6). Two control groups were recruited: prisoners who were not on the DSPD Programme (N = 9), and a group of university employees and students (N = 10). Participants were filmed as\ud they completed a facial affect recognition task using dynamic, spontaneous facial expressions of emotion as stimuli. The presence or absence of mirroring was determined by two independent raters. Because interrater reliability was low (Mean Cohen 's K=0.28, SD = 0.15), ratings were analysed separately. Non-parametric tests were used to investigate differences in group means for all analyses except for recognition, as only these data met\ud parametric assumptions. There were no group differences in mirroring at the 5% level. However, group differences between university controls and prison controls approached\ud significance, with more mirroring of happiness (both raters) and disgust (one rater only) in the university controls. Differences between the DSPD group and university controls on these measures were also (nonsignificantly) in the predicted direction. Supplementary analyses found higher recognition of anger in the normal controls than in the prison controls. There was no association between mirroring and recognition, and there were no group differences in emotional sensitivity based on strength ratings for the stimuli; however, university participants selected more emotional classes per trial than either of the\ud two prison groups. It is proposed that in order to measure possible deficits in both mirroring and recognition, it may be necessary to use a combination of extreme and moderate facial stimuli, balanced across emotional classes. The potential application of this method to the assessment of mirroring in DSPD, and also to the evaluation of treatment, is discussed

Publisher: School of Medicine (Leeds)
Year: 2006
OAI identifier:

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