Publications by authors named "Ian Penton-Voak"

63 Publications

Examining the bidirectional association between emotion recognition and social autistic traits using observational and genetic analyses.

J Child Psychol Psychiatry 2021 Mar 2. Epub 2021 Mar 2.

School of Psychological Science, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.

Background: There is mixed evidence for an association between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and emotion recognition deficits. We sought to assess the bidirectionality of this association using phenotypic and genetic data in a large community sample.

Methods: Analyses were conducted in three stages. First, we examined the bidirectional association between social autistic traits at age 8 years and emotion recognition task (ERT) responses at age 24 years (Study 1; N = 3,562); and between Diagnostic Analysis of Non-Verbal Accuracy (DANVA) emotion recognition responses at age 8 years and social autistic traits at age 10 years (Study 2; N = 9,071). Next, we used genetic analyses (Study 3) to examine the association between polygenic risk scores for ASD and outcomes for the ERT and DANVA. The genetic correlation between ASD and ERT responses at age 24 was also estimated. Analyses were conducted in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.

Results: Social autistic traits at age 8 years were negatively associated with later total correct responses on ERT in Study 1 (b = -0.18; 95% CI: -0.27 to -0.09). We also found evidence of an association in Study 2 (b = -0.04; 95% CI: -0.05 to -0.03). We found the opposite association, that is positive, between the ASD polygenic risk score and ERT (b = 0.40; 95% CI: 0.10 to 0.70); however, this association varied across different p-value thresholds and would not survive multiple testing, so should be interpreted with caution. We did not find evidence of a genetic correlation between ASD and ERT.

Conclusion: We found an observational association between poorer emotion recognition and increased social autistic traits. Our genetic analyses may suggest a shared genetic aetiology between these or a potential causal pathway; however, future research would benefit from using better powered GWAS to examine this further. Our results may inform interventions targeting emotion recognition.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.13395DOI Listing
March 2021

Interpretation bias training for bipolar disorder: A randomized controlled trial.

J Affect Disord 2021 Mar 30;282:876-884. Epub 2020 Dec 30.

MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, School of Psychological Science, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom.

Background: Bipolar disorder (BD) is associated with emotion interpretation biases that can exacerbate depressed mood. Interpretation bias training (IBT) may help; according to the "virtuous cycle" hypothesis, interpreting others' emotions as positive can lead to interactions that improve mood. Our goals were to determine whether IBT can shift emotion interpretation biases and demonstrate clinical benefits (lower depressed mood, improved social function) in people with BD.

Method: Young adults with BD were recruited for three sessions of computer-based IBT. Active IBT targets negative emotion bias by training judgments of ambiguous face emotions towards happy judgments. Participants were randomized to active or sham IBT. Participants reported on mood and functioning at baseline, intervention end (week two), and week 10.

Results: Fifty participants (average age 22, 72% female) enrolled, 38 completed the week 10 follow-up. IBT shifted emotion interpretations (Hedges g = 1.63). There was a group-by-time effect (B = -13.88, p < .0001) on self-reported depression; the IBT group had a larger decrease in depressed mood. The IBT group also had a larger increase in perceived familial support (B = 3.88, p < .0001). Baseline learning rate (i.e., how quickly emotion judgments were updated) was associated with reduced clinician- (B = -54.70, p < 0.001) and self-reported depression (B = -58.20, p = 0.009).

Conclusion: Our results converge with prior work demonstrating that IBT may reduce depressed mood. Additionally, our results provide support for role of operant conditioning in the treatment of depression. People with BD spend more time depressed than manic; IBT, an easily disseminated intervention, could augment traditional forms of treatment without significant expense or side effects.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2020.12.162DOI Listing
March 2021

Effects of state anxiety on gait: a 7.5% carbon dioxide challenge study.

Psychol Res 2020 Jul 31. Epub 2020 Jul 31.

MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.

We used the 7.5% carbon dioxide (CO) model of anxiety induction to investigate the effects of state anxiety on normal gait and gait when navigating an obstacle. Healthy volunteers (n = 22) completed a walking task during inhalations of 7.5% CO and medical air (placebo) in a within-subjects design. The order of inhalation was counterbalanced across participants and the gas was administered double-blind. Over a series of trials, participants walked the length of the laboratory, with each trial requiring participants to navigate through an aperture (width adjusted to participant size), with gait parameters measured via a motion capture system. The main findings were that walking speed was slower, but the adjustment in body orientation was greater, during 7.5% CO inhalation compared to air. These findings indicate changes in locomotor behaviour during heightened state anxiety that may reflect greater caution when moving in an agitated state. Advances in sensing technology offer the opportunity to monitor locomotor behaviour, and these findings suggest that in doing so, we may be able to infer emotional states from movement in naturalistic settings.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00426-020-01393-2DOI Listing
July 2020

The effects of age at menarche and first sexual intercourse on reproductive and behavioural outcomes: A Mendelian randomization study.

PLoS One 2020 15;15(6):e0234488. Epub 2020 Jun 15.

MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom.

There is substantial variation in the timing of significant reproductive life events such as menarche and first sexual intercourse. Life history theory explains this variation as an adaptive response to an individual's environment and it is important to examine how traits within life history strategies affect each other. Here we applied Mendelian randomization (MR) methods to investigate whether there is a causal effect of variation in age at menarche and age at first sexual intercourse (markers or results of exposure to early life adversity) on outcomes related to reproduction, education and risky behaviour in UK Biobank (N = 114 883-181 255). Our results suggest that earlier age at menarche affects some traits that characterize life history strategies including earlier age at first and last birth, decreased educational attainment, and decreased age at leaving education (for example, we found evidence for a 0.26 year decrease in age at first birth per year decrease in age at menarche, 95% confidence interval: -0.34 to -0.17; p < 0.001). We find no clear evidence of effects of age at menarche on other outcomes, such as risk taking behaviour. Age at first sexual intercourse was also related to many life history outcomes, although there was evidence of horizontal pleiotropy which violates an assumption of MR and we therefore cannot infer causality from this analysis. Taken together, these results highlight how MR can be applied to test predictions of life history theory and to better understand determinants of health and social behaviour.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0234488PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7295202PMC
August 2020

Effects of acute alcohol consumption on emotion recognition in high and low trait aggressive drinkers.

J Psychopharmacol 2020 11 29;34(11):1226-1236. Epub 2020 May 29.

MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.

Background: Research suggests that acute alcohol consumption impairs processing of emotional faces. As emotion processing plays a key role in effective social interaction, these impairments may be one mechanism by which alcohol changes social behaviour. This study investigated the effect of individual differences on this relationship by comparing emotion recognition performance after acute alcohol consumption in individuals with high and low trait aggression.

Methods: Regular non-dependent drinkers, either high or low in trait aggression participated in a double-blind placebo-controlled experiment ( = 88, 50% high trait aggressive). Participants attended two sessions. In one they consumed an alcoholic drink (0.4 g/kg) and in the other they consumed a matched placebo. They then completed two computer-based tasks: one measured global and emotion-specific recognition performance across six primary emotions (anger, sadness, happiness, disgust, fear, surprise), the other measured processing bias of two ambiguously expressive faces (happy-angry/happy-sad).

Results: There was evidence of poorer global emotion recognition after alcohol. In addition, there was evidence of poorer sensitivity to sadness and fear after alcohol. There was also evidence for a reduced bias towards happiness following alcohol and weak evidence for an increased bias towards sadness.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that alcohol impairs global emotion recognition. They also highlight a reduced ability to detect sadness and fearful facial expressions. As sadness and fear are cues of submission and distress (i.e. function to curtail aggression), failure to successfully detect these emotions when intoxicated may increase the likelihood of aggressive responding. This coupled with a reduced bias towards seeing happiness may collectively contribute to aggressive behaviour.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0269881120922951DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7604882PMC
November 2020

Does repeatedly viewing overweight versus underweight images change perception of and satisfaction with own body size?

R Soc Open Sci 2020 Apr 1;7(4):190704. Epub 2020 Apr 1.

Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, Warneford Hospital, Warneford Lane, Oxford OX3 7JX, UK.

Body dissatisfaction is associated with subsequent eating disorders and weight gain. One-off exposure to bodies of different sizes changes perception of others' bodies, and perception of and satisfaction with own body size. The effect of repeated exposure to bodies of different sizes has not been assessed. We randomized women into three groups, and they spent 5 min twice a day for a week completing a one-back task using images of women modified to appear either under, over, or neither over- nor underweight. We tested the effects on their perception of their own and others' body size, and satisfaction with own size. Measures at follow-up were compared between groups, adjusted for baseline measurements. In 93 women aged 18-30 years, images of other women were perceived as larger following exposure to underweight women (and vice versa) ( < 0.001). There was no evidence for a difference in our primary outcome measure (visual analogue scale own size) or in satisfaction with own size. Avatar-constructed ideal ( = 0.03) and avatar-constructed perceived own body size ( = 0.007) both decreased following exposure to underweight women, possibly due to adaptation affecting how the avatar was perceived. Repeated exposure to different sized bodies changes perception of the size of others' bodies, but we did not find evidence that it changes perceived own size.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.190704DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7211892PMC
April 2020

Emotional recognition training modifies neural response to emotional faces but does not improve mood in healthy volunteers with high levels of depressive symptoms.

Psychol Med 2020 Feb 17:1-9. Epub 2020 Feb 17.

School of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.

Background: There is demand for new, effective and scalable treatments for depression, and development of new forms of cognitive bias modification (CBM) of negative emotional processing biases has been suggested as possible interventions to meet this need.

Methods: We report two double blind RCTs, in which volunteers with high levels of depressive symptoms (Beck Depression Inventory ii (BDI-ii) > 14) completed a brief course of emotion recognition training (a novel form of CBM using faces) or sham training. In Study 1 (N = 36), participants completed a post-training emotion recognition task whilst undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate neural correlates of CBM. In Study 2 (N = 190), measures of mood were assessed post-training, and at 2-week and 6-week follow-up.

Results: In both studies, CBM resulted in an initial change in emotion recognition bias, which (in Study 2) persisted for 6 weeks after the end of training. In Study 1, CBM resulted in increases neural activation to happy faces, with this effect driven by an increase in neural activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and bilateral amygdala. In Study 2, CBM did not lead to a reduction in depressive symptoms on the BDI-ii, or on related measures of mood, motivation and persistence, or depressive interpretation bias at either 2 or 6-week follow-ups.

Conclusions: CBM of emotion recognition has effects on neural activity that are similar in some respects to those induced by Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) administration (Study 1), but we find no evidence that this had any later effect on self-reported mood in an analogue sample of non-clinical volunteers with low mood (Study 2).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0033291719004124DOI Listing
February 2020

Variation in recognition of happy and sad facial expressions and self-reported depressive symptom severity: A prospective cohort study.

J Affect Disord 2019 10 22;257:461-469. Epub 2019 Jun 22.

Division of Psychiatry, Faculty of Brain Sciences, University College London, 6th Floor, Maple House, 149 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 7NF, UK.

Objective: Cognitive theories suggest people with depression interpret self-referential social information negatively. However, it is unclear whether these biases precede or follow depression. We investigated whether facial expression recognition was associated with depressive symptoms cross-sectionally and longitudinally.

Methods: Prospective cohort study of people who had visited UK primary care in the past year reporting depressive symptoms (n = 509). Depressive symptoms were measured using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) at four time-points, 2 weeks apart. A computerised task assessed happy and sad facial expression recognition at three time-points (n = 505 at time 1). The unbiased hit rate measured ability to recognise emotions accounting for any general tendency to identify the emotion when it was not present.

Results: The sample included the full range of depressive symptom severity, with 45% meeting diagnostic criteria for depression. There was no evidence that happy or sad unbiased hit rates were associated with concurrent or subsequent depressive symptoms. There was weak evidence that, for every additional face incorrectly classified as happy, concurrent PHQ-9 scores reduced by 0.05 of a point (95% CI = -0.10 to 0.002, p = 0.06 after adjustment for confounders). This association was strongest for more ambiguous facial expressions (interaction term p<0.001).

Limitations: This was an observational study with relatively short follow-up (6 weeks) and small changes in depressive symptoms and emotion recognition. Only 7% of invited patients consented to participate.

Conclusions: Reduced misclassifications of ambiguous faces as happy could be a state marker of depression, but was not associated with subsequent depressive symptoms. Future research should focus on the interpretation of ambiguous social information.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2019.06.025DOI Listing
October 2019

Comment on the Relationship Between Common Variant Schizophrenia Liability and Number of Offspring in the UK Biobank.

Am J Psychiatry 2019 07;176(7):573-574

Medical Research Council Integrative Epidemiology Unit (Lawn, Sallis, Wootton, Davey Smith, Davies, Hemani, Fraser, Munafò), School of Psychological Science (Lawn, Sallis, Wootton, Penton-Voak, Munafò), and Bristol Medical School (Sallis, Taylor, Davey Smith, Davies, Fraser), University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom; National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Center, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom (Taylor).

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.19010071DOI Listing
July 2019

Schizophrenia risk and reproductive success: a Mendelian randomization study.

R Soc Open Sci 2019 Mar 6;6(3):181049. Epub 2019 Mar 6.

MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 2BN, UK.

Schizophrenia is a debilitating and heritable mental disorder associated with lower reproductive success. However, the prevalence of schizophrenia is stable over populations and time, resulting in an evolutionary puzzle: how is schizophrenia maintained in the population, given its apparent fitness costs? One possibility is that increased genetic liability for schizophrenia, in the absence of the disorder itself, may confer some reproductive advantage. We assessed the correlation and causal effect of genetic liability for schizophrenia with number of children, age at first birth and number of sexual partners using data from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium and UK Biobank. Linkage disequilibrium score regression showed little evidence of genetic correlation between genetic liability for schizophrenia and number of children ( = 0.002, = 0.84), age at first birth ( = -0.007, = 0.45) or number of sexual partners ( = 0.007, = 0.42). Mendelian randomization indicated no robust evidence of a causal effect of genetic liability for schizophrenia on number of children (mean difference: 0.003 increase in number of children per doubling in the natural log odds ratio of schizophrenia risk, 95% confidence interval (CI): -0.003 to 0.009, = 0.39) or age at first birth (-0.004 years lower age at first birth, 95% CI: -0.043 to 0.034, = 0.82). We find some evidence of a positive effect of genetic liability for schizophrenia on number of sexual partners (0.165 increase in the number of sexual partners, 95% CI: 0.117-0.212, = 5.30×10). These results suggest that increased genetic liability for schizophrenia does not confer a fitness advantage but does increase mating success.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.181049DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6458425PMC
March 2019

Effects of acute alcohol consumption on emotion recognition in social alcohol drinkers.

J Psychopharmacol 2019 03 5;33(3):326-334. Epub 2019 Feb 5.

1 MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.

Background: Research suggests that acute alcohol consumption alters recognition of emotional expressions. Extending this work, we investigated the effects of alcohol on recognition of six primary expressions of emotion.

Methods: We conducted two studies using a 2 × 6 experimental design with a between-subjects factor of drink (alcohol, placebo) and a within-subjects factor of emotion (anger, disgust, sadness, surprise, happiness, fear). Study one ( n = 110) was followed by a direct replication study ( n = 192). Participants completed a six alternative forced choice emotion recognition task following consumption of 0.4 g/kg alcohol or placebo. Dependent variables were recognition accuracy (i.e. hits) and false alarms.

Results: There was no clear evidence of differences in recognition accuracy between groups ( ps > .58). In study one, there were more false alarms for anger in the alcohol compared to placebo group ( n = 52 and 56, respectively; t(94.6) = 2.26, p = .024, d = .44) and fewer false alarms for happiness ( t(106) = -2.42, p = .017, d = -.47). However, no clear evidence for these effects was found in study two (alcohol group n = 96, placebo group n = 93, ps > .22). When the data were combined we observed weak evidence of an effect of alcohol on false alarms of anger ( t(295) = 2.25, p = .025, d = .26).

Conclusions: These studies find weak support for biased anger perception following acute alcohol consumption in social consumers, which could have implications for alcohol-related aggression. Future research should investigate the robustness of this effect, particularly in individuals high in trait aggression.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0269881118822169DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6404104PMC
March 2019

A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of a computer-based Interpretation Bias Training for youth with severe irritability: a study protocol.

Trials 2018 Nov 14;19(1):626. Epub 2018 Nov 14.

Section on Mood Dysregulation and Neuroscience, Emotion and Development Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, 9000 Rockville Pike, Building 15K, Bethesda, MD, 20892, USA.

Background: Severe, chronic, and impairing irritability is a common presenting clinical problem in youth. Indeed, it was recently operationalized as disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) in the DSM-5. However, to date, there are no evidence-based treatments that were specifically developed for DMDD. The current randomized controlled trial assesses the efficacy of a computer-based cognitive training intervention (Interpretation Bias Training; IBT) in youth with DMDD. IBT aims to reduce irritability by altering judgments of ambiguous face-emotions through computerized feedback. IBT is based on previous findings that youth with irritability-related psychopathology rate ambiguous faces as more hostile and fear producing.

Methods/design: This is a double-blind, randomized controlled trial of IBT in 40 youth with DMDD. Participants will be randomized to receive four IBT sessions (Active vs. Sham training) over 4 days. Active IBT provides computerized feedback to change ambiguous face-emotion interpretations towards happy interpretations. Face-emotion judgments are performed pre and post training, and for 2 weeks following training. Blinded clinicians will conduct weekly clinical ratings. Primary outcome measures assess changes in irritability using the clinician-rated Affective Reactivity Index (ARI) and Clinical Global Impressions-Improvement (CGI-I) scale for DMDD, as well as parent and child reports of irritability using the ARI. Secondary outcome measures include clinician ratings of depression, anxiety, and overall impairment. In addition, parent and child self-report measures of depression, anxiety, anger, social status, and aggression will be collected.

Discussion: The study described in this protocol will perform the first RCT testing the efficacy of IBT in reducing irritability in youth with DMDD. Developing non-pharmacological treatment options for youth suffering from severe, chronic irritability is important to potentially augment existing treatments.

Trial Registration: ClinicalTrials.gov, ID: NCT02531893 . Registered on 25 August 2015.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s13063-018-2960-5DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6237001PMC
November 2018

Effects of exposure to bodies of different sizes on perception of and satisfaction with own body size: two randomized studies.

R Soc Open Sci 2018 May 9;5(5):171387. Epub 2018 May 9.

School of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.

Body dissatisfaction is prevalent among women and associated with subsequent obesity and eating disorders. Exposure to images of bodies of different sizes has been suggested to change the perception of 'normal' body size in others. We tested whether exposure to different-sized (otherwise identical) bodies changes perception of own and others' body size, satisfaction with body size and amount of chocolate consumed. In Study 1, 90 18-25-year-old women with normal BMI were randomized into one of three groups to complete a 15 min two-back task using photographs of women either of 'normal weight' (Body Mass Index (BMI) 22-23 kg m), or altered to appear either under- or over-weight. Study 2 was identical except the 96 participants had high baseline body dissatisfaction and were followed up after 24 h. We also conducted a mega-analysis combining both studies. Participants rated size of others' bodies, own size, and satisfaction with size pre- and post-task. Post-task ratings were compared between groups, adjusting for pre-task ratings. Participants exposed to over- or normal-weight images subsequently perceived others' bodies as smaller, in comparison to those shown underweight bodies ( < 0.001). They also perceived their own bodies as smaller (Study 1,  = 0.073; Study 2,  = 0.018; mega-analysis,  = 0.001), and felt more satisfied with their size (Study 1,  = 0.046; Study 2,  = 0.004; mega-analysis,  = 0.006). There were no differences in chocolate consumption. This study suggests that a move towards using images of women with a BMI in the healthy range in the media may help to reduce body dissatisfaction, and the associated risk of eating disorders.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.171387DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5990741PMC
May 2018

An investigation of emotion recognition training to reduce symptoms of social anxiety in adolescence.

Psychiatry Res 2018 05 8;263:257-267. Epub 2018 Feb 8.

University College Dublin School of Psychology, Newman Building Belfield, Dublin 4 Dublin, Leinster Ireland. Electronic address:

This study aimed to examine the effect of emotion recognition training on social anxiety symptoms among adolescents, aged 15-18 years. The study included a screening session, which identified participants who scored above a cut-off on a self-report measure of social anxiety for enrolment into a randomized controlled trial (Clinical Trials ID: NCT02550379). Participants were randomized to an intervention condition designed to increase the perception of happiness over disgust in ambiguous facial expressions or a sham intervention control condition, and completed self-report measures of social anxiety, fear of negative evaluation, anxiety-related disorders, and depressive symptoms. The intervention group demonstrated a strong shift in the balance point at which they perceived happiness over disgust in ambiguous facial expressions. This increase in positive perception was not associated with any changes in the primary outcome of social anxiety; however, some evidence of improvement in symptomatology was observed on one of a number of secondary outcomes. Those in the intervention group had lower depression symptoms at 2-week follow-up, compared to those in the control group who received the sham intervention training. Potential reasons for why the shift in balance point measurement was not associated with a concurrent shift in symptoms of social anxiety are discussed.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2018.02.023DOI Listing
May 2018

Exposure to childhood adversity and deficits in emotion recognition: results from a large, population-based sample.

J Child Psychol Psychiatry 2018 08 7;59(8):845-854. Epub 2018 Mar 7.

School of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.

Background: Emotion recognition skills are essential for social communication. Deficits in these skills have been implicated in mental disorders. Prior studies of clinical and high-risk samples have consistently shown that children exposed to adversity are more likely than their unexposed peers to have emotion recognition skills deficits. However, only one population-based study has examined this association.

Methods: We analyzed data from children participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a prospective birth cohort (n = 6,506). We examined the association between eight adversities, assessed repeatedly from birth to age 8 (caregiver physical or emotional abuse; sexual or physical abuse; maternal psychopathology; one adult in the household; family instability; financial stress; parent legal problems; neighborhood disadvantage) and the ability to recognize facial displays of emotion measured using the faces subtest of the Diagnostic Assessment of Non-Verbal Accuracy (DANVA) at age 8.5 years. In addition to examining the role of exposure (vs. nonexposure) to each type of adversity, we also evaluated the role of the timing, duration, and recency of each adversity using a Least Angle Regression variable selection procedure.

Results: Over three-quarters of the sample experienced at least one adversity. We found no evidence to support an association between emotion recognition deficits and previous exposure to adversity, either in terms of total lifetime exposure, timing, duration, or recency, or when stratifying by sex.

Conclusions: Results from the largest population-based sample suggest that even extreme forms of adversity are unrelated to emotion recognition deficits as measured by the DANVA, suggesting the possible immutability of emotion recognition in the general population. These findings emphasize the importance of population-based studies to generate generalizable results.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12881DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6041167PMC
August 2018

Smoking status and attractiveness among exemplar and prototypical identical twins discordant for smoking.

R Soc Open Sci 2017 12 13;4(12):161076. Epub 2017 Dec 13.

MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit (IEU) at the University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.

Smoking is associated with negative health of skin and increased signs of facial ageing. We aimed to address two questions about smoking and appearance: (1) does facial appearance alone provide an indication of smoking status, and (2) how does smoking affect the attractiveness of faces? We used faces of identical twins discordant for smoking, and prototypes made by averaging the faces of the twins. In Task 1, we presented exemplar twin sets and same sex prototypes side-by-side and participants ( = 590) indicated which face was the smoker. Participants were blind to smoking status. In Task 2 a separate sample ( = 580) indicated which face was more attractive. For the exemplar twin sets, there was inconclusive evidence participants selected the smoking twin as the smoker more often, or selected the non-smoking twin as the more attractive more often. For the prototypes, however, participants clearly selected the smoking prototypes as the smoker more often, and the non-smoking prototypes as the more attractive. Prototypical faces of non-smokers are judged more attractive, and prototypical faces of smokers are correctly identified as smokers more often than prototypical faces of matched smokers/non-smokers [corrected]. We discuss the possible use of these findings in smoking behaviour change interventions.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.161076DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5749982PMC
December 2017

Why rate when you could compare? Using the "EloChoice" package to assess pairwise comparisons of perceived physical strength.

PLoS One 2018 2;13(1):e0190393. Epub 2018 Jan 2.

Université de Neuchâtel, Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

We introduce "EloChoice", a package for R which uses Elo rating to assess pairwise comparisons between stimuli in order to measure perceived stimulus characteristics. To demonstrate the package and compare results from forced choice pairwise comparisons to those from more standard single stimulus rating tasks using Likert (or Likert-type) items, we investigated perceptions of physical strength from images of male bodies. The stimulus set comprised images of 82 men standing on a raised platform with minimal clothing. Strength-related anthropometrics and grip strength measurements were available for each man in the set. UK laboratory participants (Study 1) and US online participants (Study 2) viewed all images in both a Likert rating task, to collect mean Likert scores, and a pairwise comparison task, to calculate Elo, mean Elo (mElo), and Bradley-Terry scores. Within both studies, Likert, Elo and Bradley-Terry scores were closely correlated to mElo scores (all rs > 0.95), and all measures were correlated with stimulus grip strength (all rs > 0.38) and body size (all rs > 0.59). However, mElo scores were less variable than Elo scores and were hundreds of times quicker to compute than Bradley-Terry scores. Responses in pairwise comparison trials were 2/3 quicker than in Likert tasks, indicating that participants found pairwise comparisons to be easier. In addition, mElo scores generated from a data set with half the participants randomly excluded produced very comparable results to those produced with Likert scores from the full participant set, indicating that researchers require fewer participants when using pairwise comparisons.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0190393PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5749798PMC
February 2018

Perceiving the evil eye: Investigating hostile interpretation of ambiguous facial emotional expression in violent and non-violent offenders.

PLoS One 2017 30;12(11):e0187080. Epub 2017 Nov 30.

School of Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom.

Research into the causal and perpetuating factors influencing aggression has partly focused on the general tendency of aggression-prone individuals to infer hostile intent in others, even in ambiguous circumstances. This is referred to as the 'hostile interpretation bias'. Whether this hostile interpretation bias also exists in basal information processing, such as perception of facial emotion, is not yet known, especially with respect to the perception of ambiguous expressions. In addition, little is known about how this potential bias in facial emotion perception is related to specific characteristics of aggression. In the present study, conducted in a penitentiary setting with detained male adults, we investigated if violent offenders (n = 71) show a stronger tendency to interpret ambiguous facial expressions on a computer task as angry rather than happy, compared to non-violent offenders (n = 14) and to a control group of healthy volunteers (n = 32). We also investigated if hostile perception of facial expressions is related to specific characteristics of aggression, such as proactive and reactive aggression. No clear statistical evidence was found that violent offenders perceived facial emotional expressions as more angry than non-violent offenders or healthy volunteers. A regression analysis in the violent offender group showed that only age and a self-report measure of hostility predicted outcome on the emotion perception task. Other traits, such as psychopathic traits, intelligence, attention and a tendency to jump to conclusions were not associated with interpretation of anger in facial emotional expressions. We discuss the possible impact of the study design and population studied on our results, as well as implications for future studies.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0187080PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5708671PMC
December 2017

Childhood psychosocial adversity and female reproductive timing: a cohort study of the ALSPAC mothers.

J Epidemiol Community Health 2018 Jan 9;72(1):34-40. Epub 2017 Nov 9.

MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.

Background: Previous studies of childhood psychosocial adversity and age at menarche mostly evaluated single or a few measures of adversity, and therefore could not quantify total psychosocial adversity. Limited knowledge is currently available regarding childhood psychosocial adversity in relation to age at menopause and reproductive lifespan.

Methods: We examined the associations of total and specific components of childhood psychosocial adversity with age at menarche (n=8984), age at menopause (n=945), and length of reproductive lifespan (n=841), in mothers participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. We used confirmatory factor analysis to characterise lack of care, maladaptive family functioning, non-sexual abuse, overprotective parenting, parental mental illness and sexual abuse. These specific components of childhood psychosocial adversity were combined into a total psychosocial adversity score using a second-order factor analysis. We used structural equation models to simultaneously conduct the factor analysis and estimate the association with the continuous outcomes of interest.

Results: Total childhood psychosocial adversity was not associated with age at menarche, age at menopause or length of reproductive lifespan. When we examined the separate psychosocial adversity constructs, sexual abuse was inversely associated with age at menarche, with a mean difference of -0.17 (95% CI -0.23 to -0.12) years per SD higher factor score, and with age at menopause, with a mean difference of -0.17 (95% CI -0.52 to 0.18) per SD higher factor score.

Conclusion: Childhood sexual abuse was associated with lower age at menarche and menopause, but the latter needs to be confirmed in larger samples.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/jech-2017-209488DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5753025PMC
January 2018

State anxiety and emotional face recognition in healthy volunteers.

R Soc Open Sci 2017 May 31;4(5):160855. Epub 2017 May 31.

MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, School of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.

High trait anxiety has been associated with detriments in emotional face processing. By contrast, relatively little is known about the effects of anxiety on emotional face processing. We investigated the effects of state anxiety on recognition of emotional expressions (anger, sadness, surprise, disgust, fear and happiness) experimentally, using the 7.5% carbon dioxide (CO) model to induce state anxiety, and in a large observational study. The experimental studies indicated reduced global (rather than emotion-specific) emotion recognition accuracy and increased interpretation bias (a tendency to perceive anger over happiness) when state anxiety was heightened. The observational study confirmed that higher state anxiety is associated with poorer emotion recognition, and indicated that negative effects of trait anxiety are negated when controlling for state anxiety, suggesting a mediating effect of state anxiety. These findings may have implications for anxiety disorders, which are characterized by increased frequency, intensity or duration of state anxious episodes.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.160855DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5451788PMC
May 2017

Impaired Recognition of Basic Emotions from Facial Expressions in Young People with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Assessing the Importance of Expression Intensity.

J Autism Dev Disord 2019 Jul;49(7):2768-2778

School of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.

It has been proposed that impairments in emotion recognition in ASD are greater for more subtle expressions of emotion. We measured recognition of 6 basic facial expressions at 8 intensity levels in young people (6-16 years) with ASD (N = 63) and controls (N = 64) via an Internet platform. Participants with ASD were less accurate than controls at labelling expressions across intensity levels, although differences at very low levels were not detected due to floor effects. Recognition accuracy did not correlate with parent-reported social functioning in either group. These findings provide further evidence for an impairment in recognition of basic emotion in ASD and do not support the idea that this impairment is limited solely to low intensity expressions.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10803-017-3091-7DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6606653PMC
July 2019

Prefrontal cortex stimulation does not affect emotional bias, but may slow emotion identification.

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2017 05;12(5):839-847

Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, UK.

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has recently garnered attention as a putative depression treatment. However, the cognitive mechanisms by which it exerts an antidepressant effect are unclear: tDCS may directly alter 'hot' emotional processing biases, or alleviate depression through changes in 'cold' (non-emotional) cognitive function. Here, 75 healthy participants performed a facial emotion identification task during 20 minutes of anodal or sham tDCS over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) in a double-blind, within-subject crossover design. A subset of 31 participants additionally completed a task measuring attentional distraction during stimulation. Compared to sham stimulation, anodal tDCS of the left DLPFC resulted in an increase in response latency across all emotional conditions. Bayesian analysis showed definitively that tDCS exerted no emotion-dependent effect on behaviour. Thus, we demonstrate that anodal tDCS produces a general, rather than an emotion-specific, effect. We also report a preliminary finding in the subset of participants who completed the distractibility task: increased distractibility during active stimulation correlated significantly with the degree to which tDCS slowed emotion identification. Our results provide insight into the possible mechanisms by which DLPFC tDCS may treat symptoms of depression, suggesting that it may not alter emotional biases, but instead may affect 'cold' cognitive processes.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsx007DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5460043PMC
May 2017

An interactive training programme to treat body image disturbance.

Br J Health Psychol 2017 Feb 3;22(1):60-76. Epub 2016 Nov 3.

School of Psychology, University of Lincoln, UK.

Objectives: Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a life-threatening mental health condition. A core feature is a disturbance of body image, such that sufferers see themselves as fatter than they actually are.

Design: We tested the effectiveness of a novel training programme to recalibrate our participants' perception of body size.

Methods: In a novel adaptation of a cognitive bias training programme, participants judged the body size of a series of female bodies and were given feedback to improve their accuracy over four daily training sessions. In Study 1, we recruited young women with high concerns about their body size for a randomized controlled study. In Study 2, we then applied the training programme to a case series of women with atypical AN.

Results: In Study 1, the training programme significantly improved the body size judgements of women with high body concerns compared to controls. We also found evidence of improved body image and reduced eating concerns in this group. In Study 2, the programme again recalibrated the body size judgements of women with atypical AN. We also saw evidence of a clinically meaningful reduction in their body size and eating-disordered concerns.

Conclusions: This training has the potential to be a valuable treatment used together with more traditional talking therapies. Statement of contribution What is already known on this subject? A core feature of anorexia nervosa (AN) is an overestimation of body size; sufferers believe themselves to be larger than they are in reality. This study shows that an individual's perceptual boundary between what they classify as a fat versus a thin body is not immutable; it can be changed through a cognitive bias training programme. What does this study add? This means that body size overestimation may now be treatable. Critically, as well as improving the accuracy of body size judgements, we also found a clinically significant improvement in participants' eating-disordered concerns. This demonstrates that a targeted behavioural training regime can change body perception, and the central role that body overestimation has in eating-disordered beliefs.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bjhp.12217DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5248599PMC
February 2017

Emotion recognition training using composite faces generalises across identities but not all emotions.

Cogn Emot 2017 08 12;31(5):858-867. Epub 2016 Apr 12.

b School of Experimental Psychology , University of Bristol , Bristol , UK.

Many cognitive bias modification (CBM) tasks use facial expressions of emotion as stimuli. Some tasks use unique facial stimuli, while others use composite stimuli, given evidence that emotion is encoded prototypically. However, CBM using composite stimuli may be identity- or emotion-specific, and may not generalise to other stimuli. We investigated the generalisability of effects using composite faces in two experiments. Healthy adults in each study were randomised to one of four training conditions: two stimulus-congruent conditions, where same faces were used during all phases of the task, and two stimulus-incongruent conditions, where faces of the opposite sex (Experiment 1) or faces depicting another emotion (Experiment 2) were used after the modification phase. Our results suggested that training effects generalised across identities. However, our results indicated only partial generalisation across emotions. These findings suggest effects obtained using composite stimuli may extend beyond the stimuli used in the task but remain emotion-specific.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2016.1169999DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5448393PMC
August 2017

EMOTICOM: A Neuropsychological Test Battery to Evaluate Emotion, Motivation, Impulsivity, and Social Cognition.

Front Behav Neurosci 2016 24;10:25. Epub 2016 Feb 24.

Neuroscience and Psychiatry Unit, University of Manchester Manchester, UK.

In mental health practice, both pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments are aimed at improving neuropsychological symptoms, including cognitive and emotional impairments. However, at present there is no established neuropsychological test battery that comprehensively covers multiple affective domains relevant in a range of disorders. Our objective was to generate a standardized test battery, comprised of existing, adapted and novel tasks, to assess four core domains of affective cognition (emotion processing, motivation, impulsivity and social cognition) in order to facilitate and enhance treatment development and evaluation in a broad range of neuropsychiatric disorders. The battery was administered to 200 participants aged 18-50 years (50% female), 42 of whom were retested in order to assess reliability. An exploratory factor analysis identified 11 factors with eigenvalues greater than 1, which accounted for over 70% of the variance. Tasks showed moderate to excellent test-retest reliability and were not strongly correlated with demographic factors such as age or IQ. The EMOTICOM test battery is therefore a promising tool for the assessment of affective cognitive function in a range of contexts.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2016.00025DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4764711PMC
March 2016

An Open Pilot Study of Training Hostile Interpretation Bias to Treat Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder.

J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol 2016 Feb 8;26(1):49-57. Epub 2016 Jan 8.

1 Section on Bipolar Spectrum Disorders, Emotion and Development Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health , Department of Health and Human Services, Bethesda, Maryland.

Objective: Irritability in disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) may be associated with a biased tendency to judge ambiguous facial expressions as angry. We conducted three experiments to explore this bias as a treatment target. We tested: 1) whether youth with DMDD express this bias; 2) whether judgment of ambiguous faces can be altered in healthy youth by training; and 3) whether such training in youth with DMDD is associated with reduced irritability and associated changes in brain function.

Methods: Participants in all experiments made happy versus angry judgments of faces that varied along a happy to angry continuum. These judgments were used to quantify a "balance point," the facial expression at which a participant's judgment switches from predominantly happy to predominantly angry. We first compared balance points in youth with DMDD (n = 63) versus healthy youth (n = 26). We then conducted a double-blind, randomized controlled trial of active versus sham balance-point training in 19 healthy youth. Finally, we piloted open, active balance-point training in 14 youth with DMDD, with 10 completing an implicit functional MRI (fMRI) face-emotion processing task.

Results: Relative to healthy youth, DMDD youth manifested a shifted balance point, expressed as a tendency to classify ambiguous faces as angry rather than happy. In both healthy and DMDD youth, active training is associated with a shift in balance point toward more happy judgments. In DMDD, evidence suggests that active training may be associated with decreased irritability and changes in activation in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex.

Conclusions: These results set the stage for further research on computer-based treatment targeting interpretation bias of angry faces in DMDD. Such treatment may decrease irritability and alter neural responses to subtle expressions of happiness and anger.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/cap.2015.0100DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4779288PMC
February 2016

Feedback training induces a bias for detecting happiness or fear in facial expressions that generalises to a novel task.

Psychiatry Res 2015 Dec 19;230(3):951-7. Epub 2015 Nov 19.

School of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom; Medical Research Council Integrative Epidemiology Unit (MRC IEU) at the University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom; UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom.

Many psychological disorders are characterised by insensitivities or biases in the processing of subtle facial expressions of emotion. Training using expression morph sequences which vary the intensity of expressions may be able to address such deficits. In the current study participants were shown expressions from either happy or fearful intensity morph sequences, and trained to detect the target emotion (e.g., happy in the happy sequence) as being present in low intensity expressions. Training transfer was tested using a six alternative forced choice emotion labelling task with varying intensity expressions, which participants completed before and after training. Training increased false alarms for the target emotion in the transfer task. Hit rate for the target emotion did not increase once adjustment was made for the increase in false alarms. This suggests that training causes a bias for detecting the target emotion which generalises outside of the training task. However it does not increase accuracy for detecting the target emotion. The results are discussed in terms of the training's utility in addressing different types of emotion processing deficits in psychological disorders.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2015.11.007DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4693450PMC
December 2015