Publications by authors named "Robert W Levenson"

97 Publications

Shared emotions in shared lives: Moments of co-experienced affect, more than individually experienced affect, linked to relationship quality.

Emotion 2021 Feb 25. Epub 2021 Feb 25.

Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Motivated by collective emotions theories that propose emotions shared between individuals predict group-level qualities, we hypothesized that co-experienced affect during interactions is associated with relationship quality, above and beyond the effects of individually experienced affect. Consistent with positivity resonance theory, we also hypothesized that co-experienced positive affect would have a stronger association with relationship quality than would co-experienced negative affect. We tested these hypotheses in 150 married couples across 3 conversational interactions: a conflict, a neutral topic, and a pleasant topic. Spouses continuously rated their individual affective experience during each conversation while watching video-recordings of their interactions. These individual affect ratings were used to determine, for positive and negative affect separately, the number of seconds of co-experienced affect and individually experienced affect during each conversation. In line with hypotheses, results from all 3 conversational topics suggest that more co-experienced positive affect is associated with greater marital quality, whereas more co-experienced negative affect is associated with worse marital quality. Individual level affect factors added little explanatory value beyond co-experienced affect. Comparing co-experienced positive affect and co-experienced negative affect, we found that co-experienced positive affect generally outperformed co-experienced negative affect, although co-experienced negative affect was especially diagnostic during the pleasant conversational topic. Findings suggest that co-experienced positive affect may be an integral component of high-quality relationships and highlight the power of co-experienced affect for individual perceptions of relationship quality. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000939DOI Listing
February 2021

Physiological linkage during shared positive and shared negative emotion.

J Pers Soc Psychol 2020 Sep 7. Epub 2020 Sep 7.

Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Physiological linkage refers to the degree to which peoples' physiological responses change in coordinated ways. Here, we examine whether and how physiological linkage relates to incidents of shared emotion, distinguished by valence. Past research has used an "overall average" approach and characterized how physiological linkage over relatively long time periods (e.g., 10-15 min) reflects psychological and social processes (e.g., marital satisfaction, empathy). Here, we used a "momentary" approach and characterized whether physiological linkage over relatively short time periods (i.e., 15 s) reflects shared positive emotion, shared negative emotion, or both, and whether linkage during shared emotions relates to relational functioning. Married couples (156 dyads) had a 15-min conflict conversation in the laboratory. Using behavioral coding, each second of conversation was classified into 1 of 4 emotion categories: shared positive emotion, shared negative emotion, shared neutral emotion, or unshared emotion. Using a composite of 3 peripheral physiological measures (i.e., heart rate, skin conductance, finger pulse amplitude), we computed momentary in-phase and antiphase linkage to represent coordinated changes in the same or opposite direction, respectively. We found that shared positive emotion was associated with higher in-phase and lower antiphase linkage, relative to the other 3 emotion categories. Greater in-phase physiological linkage during shared positive emotion was also consistently associated with higher-quality interactions and relationships, both concurrently and longitudinally (i.e., 5 to 6 years later). These findings advance our understanding of the nature of physiological linkage, the emotional conditions under which it occurs, and its possible associations with relational functioning. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000337DOI Listing
September 2020

Smaller Volume in Left-Lateralized Brain Structures Correlates with Greater Experience of Negative Non-target Emotions in Neurodegenerative Diseases.

Cereb Cortex 2021 Jan;31(1):15-31

University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA.

Subjective emotional experience that is congruent with a given situation (i.e., target emotions) is critical for human survival (e.g., feeling disgusted in response to contaminated food motivates withdrawal behaviors). Neurodegenerative diseases including frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer's disease affect brain regions critical for cognitive and emotional functioning, resulting in increased experience of emotions incongruent with the situation (i.e., non-target emotions, such as feeling happy when seeing someone grieving). We examined neuroanatomical correlates of subjective experience of non-target emotions in 147 patients with neurodegenerative diseases and 26 healthy individuals. Participants watched three films intended to elicit particular target emotions and rated their experience of negative and positive target and non-target emotions after watching each film. We found that smaller volume in left hemisphere regions (e.g., caudate, putamen, and dorsal anterior insula) was associated with greater experience of negative non-target emotions. Follow-up analyses confirmed that these effects were left-lateralized. No correlates emerged for positive non-target emotions. These findings suggest that volume loss in left-hemisphere regions produces a more diffuse, incongruent experience of non-target emotions. These findings provide a potential neuroanatomical basis for understanding how subjective emotional experience is constructed in the brain and how this can be disrupted in neurodegenerative disease.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhaa193DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7727364PMC
January 2021

Mental health and clinical psychological science in the time of COVID-19: Challenges, opportunities, and a call to action.

Am Psychol 2020 Aug 10. Epub 2020 Aug 10.

Department of Psychiatry, Brown University.

COVID-19 presents significant social, economic, and medical challenges. Because COVID-19 has already begun to precipitate huge increases in mental health problems, clinical psychological science must assert a leadership role in guiding a national response to this secondary crisis. In this article, COVID-19 is conceptualized as a unique, compounding, multidimensional stressor that will create a vast need for intervention and necessitate new paradigms for mental health service delivery and training. Urgent challenge areas across developmental periods are discussed, followed by a review of psychological symptoms that likely will increase in prevalence and require innovative solutions in both science and practice. Implications for new research directions, clinical approaches, and policy issues are discussed to highlight the opportunities for clinical psychological science to emerge as an updated, contemporary field capable of addressing the burden of mental illness and distress in the wake of COVID-19 and beyond. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/amp0000707DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7873160PMC
August 2020

Pronoun Use during Patient-Caregiver Interactions: Associations with Caregiver Well-Being.

Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord 2020 1;49(2):202-209. Epub 2020 Jul 1.

Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA,

Introduction: Caring for a spouse with dementia can be extremely challenging. Many caregivers experience profound declines in well-being; however, others remain healthy.

Objective: This study determined whether the personal pronouns used in interactions between persons with dementia (PWDs) and their spousal caregivers were associated with caregiver well-being.

Methods: Fifty-eight PWDs and their spousal caregivers engaged in a 10-min conversation about an area of disagreement in a laboratory setting. Verbatim transcripts of the conversation were coded using text analysis software, and caregivers and PWDs each received scores for (a) I-pronouns, (b) you-pronouns, and (c) we-pronouns. Caregivers' well-being was assessed using a composite measure of depression, anxiety, burden, and strain.

Results: Results revealed that less use of we-pronouns by caregivers and PWDs and greater use of I-pronouns by PWDs were -associated with lower caregiver well-being.

Conclusions: These findings indicate that less use of pronouns that refer to the couple (we-pronouns used by either partner) and greater use of pronouns that refer to the PWD (I-pronouns used by the PWD) are indicative of caregivers at heightened risk for lower well-being.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1159/000508095DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7805608PMC
July 2020

Comparing two facets of emotion perception across multiple neurodegenerative diseases.

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2020 07;15(5):511-522

Berkeley Psychophysiology Laboratory, Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-1650, USA.

Deficits in emotion perception (the ability to infer others' emotions accurately) can occur as a result of neurodegeneration. It remains unclear how different neurodegenerative diseases affect different forms of emotion perception. The present study compares performance on a dynamic tracking task of emotion perception (where participants track the changing valence of a film character's emotions) with performance on an emotion category labeling task (where participants label specific emotions portrayed by film characters) across seven diagnostic groups (N = 178) including Alzheimer's disease (AD), behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), semantic variant primary progressive aphasia (svPPA), non-fluent variant primary progressive aphasia (nfvPPA), progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), corticobasal syndrome and healthy controls. Consistent with hypotheses, compared to controls, the bvFTD group was impaired on both tasks. The svPPA group was impaired on the emotion labeling task, whereas the nfvPPA, PSP and AD groups were impaired on the dynamic tracking task. Smaller volumes in bilateral frontal and left insular regions were associated with worse labeling, whereas smaller volumes in bilateral medial frontal, temporal and right insular regions were associated with worse tracking. Findings suggest labeling and tracking facets of emotion perception are differentially affected across neurodegenerative diseases due to their unique neuroanatomical correlates.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsaa060DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7328026PMC
July 2020

Poor disgust suppression is associated with increased anxiety in caregivers of persons with neurodegenerative disease.

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 2020 Apr 23. Epub 2020 Apr 23.

Psychology, University of California, Berkeley.

Objectives: Caregivers of persons with neurodegenerative disease have high rates of mental health problems compared to non-caregiving adults. Emotion regulation may play an important role in preserving caregivers' mental health. We examined the associations between caregivers' emotion regulation measured in several ways (ability, habitual use, and self-ratings) and their mental health symptoms.

Method: Ninety-one caregivers of persons with neurodegenerative disease participated in a laboratory-based assessment of emotion regulation. In two series of tasks, caregivers were given different instructions (no instruction, suppress) regarding altering their emotional behavioral responses to disgusting films and acoustic startle stimuli. Caregivers' emotional behavior was measured via behavioral coding and caregivers rated "how much emotion" they showed during each task. Anxiety, depression, and habitual use of expressive suppression were measured via questionnaires.

Results: Poor emotion regulation in the disgust suppression condition (i.e., greater emotional behavior) was associated with greater anxiety. Associations were not found for the startle suppression condition, depression, or self-report measures of emotion regulation.

Discussion: Findings suggest that caregivers who are unable to suppress emotional behavior in response to disgusting stimuli may be at greater risk for anxiety. Given high levels of anxiety in caregivers, it may be useful to evaluate interventions that improve ability to downregulate emotional behavior.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbaa056DOI Listing
April 2020

Emotion Recognition and Reactivity in Persons With Neurodegenerative Disease Are Differentially Associated With Caregiver Health.

Gerontologist 2020 09;60(7):1233-1243

Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley.

Background And Objectives: Motivated by the high rates of health problems found among caregivers of persons with neurodegenerative disease, we examined associations between deficits in two aspects of care recipients' socioemotional functioning and their caregivers' health.

Research Design And Methods: In 2 studies with independent samples (N = 171 and 73 dyads), caregivers reported on care recipients' emotion recognition and emotional reactivity. Caregiver health was assessed using both self-report measures (Studies 1 and 2) and autonomic nervous system indices (Study 2).

Results: Lower emotion recognition in care recipients was linearly associated with worse self-reported health, faster resting heart rate, and greater physiological reactivity to an acoustic startle stimulus in caregivers. These effects held after accounting for a variety of risk factors for poor caregiver health, including care recipients' neuropsychiatric symptoms. Emotional reactivity showed a quadratic association with health, such that the lowest and highest levels of emotional reactivity in care recipients were associated with lower self-reported health in caregivers.

Discussion And Implications: Results shed light on the unique associations between two aspects of care recipients' emotional functioning and caregivers' health. Findings suggest potential ways to identify and help caregivers at heightened risk for adverse health outcomes.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnaa030DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7491438PMC
September 2020

Physiological, behavioral and subjective sadness reactivity in frontotemporal dementia subtypes.

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2019 12;14(12):1453-1465

Berkeley Psychophysiology Laboratory, Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, USA.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD), a neurodegenerative disease broadly characterized by socioemotional impairments, includes three clinical subtypes: behavioral variant FTD (bvFTD), semantic variant primary progressive aphasia (svPPA) and non-fluent variant primary progressive aphasia (nfvPPA). Emerging evidence has shown emotional reactivity impairments in bvFTD and svPPA, whereas emotional reactivity in nfvPPA is far less studied. In 105 patients with FTD (49 bvFTD, 31 svPPA and 25 nfvPPA) and 27 healthy controls, we examined three aspects of emotional reactivity (physiology, facial behavior and subjective experience) in response to a sad film. In a subset of the sample, we also examined the neural correlates of diminished aspects of reactivity using voxel-based morphometry. Results indicated that all three subtypes of FTD showed diminished physiological responding in respiration rate and diastolic blood pressure; patients with bvFTD and svPPA also showed diminished subjective experience, and no subtypes showed diminished facial behavior. Moreover, there were differences among the clinical subtypes in brain regions where smaller volumes were associated with diminished sadness reactivity. These results show that emotion impairments extend to sadness reactivity in FTD and underscore the importance of considering different aspects of sadness reactivity in multiple clinical subtypes for characterizing emotional deficits and associated neurodegeneration in FTD.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsaa007DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7137727PMC
December 2019

Best practices in research mentoring in clinical science.

J Abnorm Psychol 2020 Jan;129(1):70-81

Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Brown University.

The growth of clinical science as a field depends on the work of engaged mentors nurturing future generations of scientists. Effective research mentoring has been shown to predict positive outcomes, including greater scholarly productivity, reduced attrition, and increased satisfaction with training and/or employment, which ultimately may enhance the quality of the clinical-science research enterprise. Barriers to effective research mentoring, however, pose significant challenges for both mentees and mentors, as well as for labs, training programs, and/or departments. We discuss some key issues as they apply to clinical-science mentoring and note how they are affected across different developmental levels (undergraduate, postbaccalaureate, doctoral, internship, postdoctoral associates, and early career faculty). Although we do not proclaim expertise on these issues-and have struggled with them in our own careers-we believe an open discussion around best mentoring practices will enhance our collective effectiveness and help mentees and our field to flourish. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/abn0000478DOI Listing
January 2020

Neuroanatomy of expressive suppression: The role of the insula.

Emotion 2021 Mar 19;21(2):405-418. Epub 2019 Dec 19.

Department of Psychology.

Expressive suppression is a response-focused regulatory strategy aimed at concealing the outward expression of emotion that is already underway. Expressive suppression requires the integration of interoception, proprioception, and social awareness to guide behavior in alignment with personal and interpersonal goals-all processes known to involve the insular cortex. Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) provides a useful patient model for studying the insula's role in socioemotional regulation. The insula is a key target of early atrophy in FTD, causing patients to lose the ability to represent the salience of internal and external conditions and to use these representations to guide behavior. We examined a sample of 59 patients with FTD, 52 patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD), and 38 neurologically healthy controls. Subjects viewed 2 disgust-eliciting films in the laboratory. During the first film, subjects were instructed to simply watch (emotional reactivity trial); during the second, they were instructed to hide their emotions (expressive suppression trial). Structural images from a subsample of participants ( = 42; 11 FTD patients, 11 AD patients, and 20 controls) were examined in conjunction with behavior. FreeSurfer was used to quantify regional gray matter volume in 41 empirically derived neural regions in both hemispheres. Of the 3 groups studied, FTD patients showed the least expressive suppression and had the smallest insula volumes, even after controlling for age, gender, and emotional reactivity. Among the brain regions examined, the insula was the only significant predictor of expressive suppression ability, with lower insula gray matter volume in both hemispheres predicting less expressive suppression. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000710DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7302989PMC
March 2021

Emotion recognition in objects in patients with neurological disease.

Neuropsychology 2019 Nov 2;33(8):1163-1173. Epub 2019 Sep 2.

Department of Psychology.

Objective: Considerable research indicates that individuals with dementia have deficits in the ability to recognize emotion in other people. The present study examined ability to detect emotional qualities of objects.

Method: Fifty-two patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD), 20 patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD), 18 patients awaiting surgery for intractable epilepsy, and 159 healthy controls completed a newly developed test of ability to recognize emotional qualities of art (music and paintings), and pleasantness in simple sensory stimuli (tactile, olfactory, auditory), and to make aesthetic judgments (geometric shapes, room décor). A subset of participants also completed a test of ability to recognize emotions in other people.

Results: Patients with FTD showed a marked deficit in ability to recognize the emotions conveyed in art, compared with both healthy individuals and patients with AD (relative to controls, deficits in patients with AD only approached significance). This deficit remained robust after controlling for FTD patients' ability to recognize pleasantness in simple sensory stimuli, make aesthetic judgments, identify odors, and identify emotions in other people. Neither FTD nor AD patients showed deficits in recognizing pleasant sensory stimuli or making aesthetic judgments. Exploratory analysis of patients with epilepsy revealed no deficits in any of these domains.

Conclusion: Patients with FTD (but not AD) showed a significant, specific deficit in ability to interpret emotional messages in art, echoing FTD-related deficits in recognizing emotions in other people. This finding adds to our understanding of the impact these diseases have on the lives of patients and their caregivers. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/neu0000587DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6823118PMC
November 2019

Interpersonal prosodic correlation in frontotemporal dementia.

Ann Clin Transl Neurol 2019 07 17;6(7):1352-1357. Epub 2019 Jun 17.

Berkeley Psychophysiology Lab, University of California, Berkeley, 4143 Tolman Hall, MC 5050, Berkeley, California, 94720-5050.

Communication accommodation describes how individuals adjust their communicative style to that of their conversational partner. We predicted that interpersonal prosodic correlation related to pitch and timing would be decreased in behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD). We predicted that the interpersonal correlation in a timing measure and a pitch measure would be increased in right temporal FTD (rtFTD) due to sparing of the neural substrate for speech timing and pitch modulation but loss of social semantics. We found no significant effects in bvFTD, but conversations including rtFTD demonstrated higher interpersonal correlations in speech rate than healthy controls.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/acn3.50816DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6649473PMC
July 2019

Stress and Illness: A Role for Specific Emotions.

Psychosom Med 2019 10;81(8):720-730

From the Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California.

Research on stress and disease has often afforded an important role to emotion, typically conceptualized in broad categories (e.g., negative emotions), viewed as playing a causal role (e.g., anger contributing to pathophysiology of cardiovascular disease), and measured using self-report inventories. In this article, I argue for the value of evaluating specific emotions, considering bidirectional causal influences, and assessing actual emotional responding when considering the role that emotions play in the stress-disease relationship. In terms of specificity, specific emotions (e.g., anger, sadness, and embarrassment) can be linked with particular health outcomes (e.g., cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal disease). In terms of bidirectionality, the influences of emotions on disease as well as the influences of disease on emotional functioning can be considered. In terms of assessing actual emotional responding, emotions can be studied in vivo under controlled conditions that allow behavioral, physiological, and subjective responses to be measured during different kinds of emotional functioning (e.g., responding to emotional stimuli, interacting with relationship partners, and downregulating emotional responses). With these considerations in mind, I review early theories and empirical studies in psychosomatic medicine that considered the role of specific emotions and emotion-related behaviors. Studies from our laboratory are presented that illustrate a) differences in patterns of autonomic nervous system responding associated with specific emotions, b) relationships between specific emotions and particular health outcomes in the context of social relationships, c) age as a moderator of the relationship between specific emotions and well-being, d) bidirectional influences (emotions influencing disease and disease influencing emotional functioning), and e) impact of changes in emotional functioning in individuals with neurodegenerative diseases on the health of familial caregivers.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/PSY.0000000000000736DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6786949PMC
October 2019

Behavioral indices of positivity resonance associated with long-term marital satisfaction.

Emotion 2020 Oct 1;20(7):1225-1233. Epub 2019 Jul 1.

Department of Psychology and Neuroscience.

Positivity resonance-defined as a synthesis of shared positive affect, mutual care and concern, plus behavioral and biological synchrony-is theorized to contribute to a host of positive outcomes, including relationship satisfaction. The current study examined whether, in long-term married couples, behavioral indices of positivity resonance (rated using a new behavioral coding system) are associated with concurrent shared positive affect using a well-established dyadic-level behavioral coding system (i.e., Specific Affect Coding System: SPAFF), and whether positivity resonance predicts concurrent marital satisfaction independently from other affective indices. Long-term married couples completed a self-report inventory assessing marital satisfaction and were then brought into the laboratory to participate in a conversation about an area of marital disagreement while being videotaped for subsequent behavioral coding. Interrater reliability for positivity resonance behavioral coding was high (intraclass correlation coefficient: 0.8). Results indicated that positivity resonance is associated with frequency of shared positive affect using SPAFF. No associations were found between positivity resonance and frequencies of SPAFF-coded individual-level positive affect or shared negative affect. Additionally, positivity resonance predicted marital satisfaction independently from frequencies of SPAFF-coded shared positive affect and individual-level positive affect alone. The effect of positivity resonance on marital satisfaction also remained significant after controlling for overall affective tone of conflict conversation. These findings provide preliminary construct and predictive validity for positivity resonance behavioral coding, and highlight the possible role positivity resonance may play in building relationship satisfaction in married couples. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000634DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6938566PMC
October 2020

Neurodegenerative Disease Caregivers' 5-HTTLPR Genotype Moderates the Effect of Patients' Empathic Accuracy Deficits on Caregivers' Well-Being.

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 2019 10 29;27(10):1046-1056. Epub 2019 Apr 29.

Department of Psychology (JLW, CLB, AYH, PDS, K-HC, RWL), University of California, Berkeley, CA. Electronic address:

Objective: To test the hypothesis that a functional polymorphism of the serotonin transporter gene (serotonin-transporter-linked polymorphic region [5-HTTLPR]), which is thought to be associated with differential environmental sensitivity, moderates the association between low levels of empathic accuracy (i.e., ability to recognize emotions in others) in patients with neurodegenerative disease and caregivers' well-being.

Methods: Participants were 54 patients with neurodegenerative disease and their caregivers. Patients' empathic accuracy was measured using a dynamic tracking task in which they continuously rated the emotions of a character in a film; accuracy was determined by comparing patient ratings with those made by an expert panel. Caregivers provided a saliva sample for genotyping. Caregivers' well-being was measured as a latent construct indicated by validated measures of depression, anxiety, and negative affect.

Results: Lower levels of patients' empathic accuracy were associated with lower levels of caregivers' well-being. Importantly, caregivers' 5-HTTLPR genotype moderated this association such that lower empathic accuracy in patients predicted lower well-being for caregivers with the short/short genotype (standardized β = 0.66), but not for caregivers with the short/long (standardized β = 0.05) or long/long genotypes (standardized β = -0.21).

Conclusion: Consistent with previous findings that the short/short variant of 5-HTTLPR is associated with greater sensitivity to environmental influences, caregivers with the short/short variant manifest lower well-being when caring for a patient with low levels of empathic accuracy than caregivers with the other variants. This finding contributes to the authors' understanding of biological factors associated with individual differences in caregiver vulnerability and resilience.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jagp.2019.04.009DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6739173PMC
October 2019

Emotion regulation via visual avoidance: Insights from neurological patients.

Neuropsychologia 2019 08 11;131:91-101. Epub 2019 May 11.

University of California, Berkeley, USA. Electronic address:

Visual avoidance of unpleasant stimuli (i.e., strategic positioning of eyes, head and torso away from an environmental stimulus) is a common attentional control behavior that may down-regulate emotion by reducing visual input. Despite its ubiquity, relatively little is known about how visual avoidance is affected by neurological diseases that impact neural circuits involved in emotional functioning. We examined visual avoidance in 56 behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) patients, 43 Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients, and 34 healthy controls. Participants came to our laboratory and viewed an extremely disgusting film clip while visual avoidance was measured using behavioral coding of head, body, and eye position. Controlling for differences in cognitive functioning, bvFTD patients were less likely to engage in visual avoidance behaviors than both AD patients and healthy controls. Additional analyses revealed that diminished visual avoidance in this task was associated with lower levels of real-world emotion regulation but not with emotion reactivity as reported by the primary caregiver.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2019.05.003DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6650310PMC
August 2019

An idiographic statistical approach to clinical hypothesis testing for routine psychotherapy: A case study.

Behav Res Ther 2019 07 27;118:43-53. Epub 2019 Mar 27.

Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA.

In order to develop more targeted, efficient, and effective psychotherapeutic interventions, calls have been made in the literature for greater use of idiographic hypothesis testing. Idiographic analyses can provide useful information regarding mechanisms of change within individuals over time during treatment. However, it remains unclear how clinicians might utilize idiographic statistical analyses during routine treatment to test clinical hypotheses, and in turn, guide treatment. We present an idiographic statistical framework for clinical hypothesis testing with routine treatment data that enables clinicians to examine a) whether the client's symptoms and hypothesized mechanisms change over time, b) whether trajectories of change reflect the timing of interventions, c) whether mechanisms predict subsequent symptoms, and d) whether relationships exist between multiple mechanisms, symptoms, or other treatment-related constructs over time. We demonstrate the utility of the approach for clinical hypothesis testing by applying it to routine treatment data collected from a 56 year-old male who presented with a combination of anger problems, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. We discuss how results from analyses can inform the case-formulation and guide clinical decision-making. We aim to make these methods more accessible by providing an online platform where clinicians can enter client data, test their clinical hypotheses using idiographic analyses, and utilize the results to disseminate their findings.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2019.03.014DOI Listing
July 2019

Coherence between subjective experience and physiology in emotion: Individual differences and implications for well-being.

Emotion 2020 Aug 14;20(5):818-829. Epub 2019 Mar 14.

Department of Psychology.

Emotion theorists have characterized emotions as involving coherent responding across various emotion response systems (e.g., covariation of subjective experience and physiology). Greater response system coherence has been theorized to promote well-being, yet very little research has tested this assumption. The current study examined whether individuals with greater coherence between physiology and subjective experience of emotion report greater well-being. We also examined factors that may predict the magnitude of coherence, such as emotion intensity, cognitive reappraisal, and expressive suppression. Participants ( = 63) completed self-report measures of well-being, expressive suppression, and cognitive reappraisal. They then watched a series of emotionally evocative film clips designed to elicit positive and negative emotion. During the films, participants continuously rated their emotional experience using a rating dial, and their autonomic physiological responses were recorded. Time-lagged cross-correlations were used to calculate within-participant coherence between intensity of emotional experience (ranging from neutral to very negative or very positive) and physiology (composite of cardiac interbeat interval, skin conductance, ear pulse transit time, finger pulse transit time and amplitude, systolic and diastolic blood pressure). Results indicated that individuals with greater coherence reported greater well-being. Coherence was highest during the most emotionally intense film and among individuals who reported lower expressive suppression. However, coherence was not associated with reappraisal. These findings provide support for the idea that greater emotion coherence promotes well-being and also shed light on factors that are associated with the magnitude of coherence. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000579DOI Listing
August 2020

Responding to the emotions of others: Age differences in facial expressions and age-specific associations with relational connectedness.

Emotion 2019 Dec 7;19(8):1437-1449. Epub 2019 Feb 7.

Department of Psychology.

Responding prosocially to the emotion of others may become increasingly important in late life, especially as partners and friends encounter a growing number of losses, challenges, and declines. Facial expressions are important avenues for communicating empathy and concern, and for signaling that help is forthcoming when needed. In a study of young, middle-aged, and older adults, we measured emotional responses (facial expressions, subjective experience, and physiological activation) to a sad, distressing film clip and a happy, uplifting film clip. Results revealed that, relative to younger adults, older adults showed more sadness and confusion/concern facial expressions during the distressing film clip. Moreover, for older adults only, more sadness and fewer disgust facial expressions during the distressing film clip were associated with higher levels of relational connectedness. These findings remained stable when accounting for subjective emotional experience, physiological activation, and trait empathy in response to the film clip. When examining the uplifting film clip, older adults showed more happiness facial expressions relative to younger adults at trend levels. More facial expressions of happiness were associated with higher levels of relational connectedness, but unlike the effect of sadness expressions, this was not moderated by age. These findings underscore an important adaptive social function of facial expressions-particularly in response to the distress of others-in late life. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000534DOI Listing
December 2019

Evaluating Patient Brain and Behavior Pathways to Caregiver Health in Neurodegenerative Diseases.

Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord 2019 10;47(1-2):42-54. Epub 2019 Jan 10.

Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA,

Background: Caregivers of patients with neurodegenerative diseases are at heightened risk for serious health problems, but health differences between individual caregivers abound.

Aims: To determine whether atrophy in patient brains could be used to identify caregivers at heightened risk for health problems and which patient variables mediate this relationship.

Methods: In 162 patient-caregiver dyads, we assessed patient atrophy using structural MRI, caregiver health, and patient behavior and cognitive symptoms.

Results: Patient atrophy in the right insula and medial frontal gyrus was associated with worse caregiver health; this relationship was partially mediated by patient neuropsychiatric symptoms, and assessing atrophy in these regions improved predictions of poor caregiver health above and beyond patient behavioral symptoms.

Conclusions: This study shows the value of patients' brain data in identifying caregivers at risk for becoming sick themselves.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1159/000495345DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6568322PMC
December 2019

Age-related changes in emotional behavior: Evidence from a 13-year longitudinal study of long-term married couples.

Emotion 2020 Mar 29;20(2):149-163. Epub 2018 Nov 29.

Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley.

We examined age-related changes in emotional behavior in a sample of middle-aged and older long-term married couples over a 13-year period. Data were collected at 3 waves, each occurring 5 to 6 years apart. For the present study, only couples who participated in all 3 waves were examined (n = 87). Couples were either in the middle-aged group (40-50 years old, married at least 15 years) or the older group (60-70 years old, married at least 35 years). At each wave, couples engaged in 15-min unrehearsed conversations about an area of disagreement in their marriage. Emotional behaviors during the conversation were objectively coded using the Specific Affect Coding System. Latent growth curve analyses revealed that, for both husbands and wives, negative emotional behavior (primarily belligerence, defensiveness, fear/tension, and whining) decreased and positive emotional behavior (primarily humor, enthusiasm, and validation) increased with age. Findings generalized across middle-aged and older cohorts and levels of marital satisfaction. These findings support theories that suggest that positive emotion increases and negative emotion decreases with age, expanding upon previous findings by examining objectively coded emotional behaviors longitudinally in an interpersonal context. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000551DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6541548PMC
March 2020

Reflections on 30 years of Cognition & Emotion.

Cogn Emot 2019 02 26;33(1):8-13. Epub 2018 Nov 26.

a Department of Psychology , University of California , Berkeley , CA , USA.

The publication of the first issue of Cognition & Emotion in 1987 helped open the floodgates to what has become a golden age of emotion research in the social and biological sciences. In this article, I describe the intellectual landscape of that era and trace key developments that helped foster the growth of the field of affective science. Looking back from a present-day perspective, I offer some thoughts on the major changes that have occurred over the past three decades, the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead, and my own personal journey toward becoming an affective scientist (which largely occurred during this period). Finally, I offer three considerations that might be helpful for young researchers who are already in the field of affective science or are considering entering it.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2018.1549023DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6399039PMC
February 2019

Network Architecture Underlying Basal Autonomic Outflow: Evidence from Frontotemporal Dementia.

J Neurosci 2018 10 4;38(42):8943-8955. Epub 2018 Sep 4.

Department of Neurology, University of California-San Francisco, Sandler Neurosciences Center, San Francisco, California 94158,

The salience network is a distributed neural system that maintains homeostasis by regulating autonomic nervous system activity and social-emotional function. Here we examined how within-network connectivity relates to individual differences in human (including males and females) baseline parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous activity. We measured resting autonomic nervous system physiology in 24 healthy controls and 23 patients with behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), a neurodegenerative disease characterized by baseline autonomic deficits. Participants also underwent structural and task-free fMRI. First, we used voxel-based morphometry to determine whether salience network atrophy was associated with lower baseline respiratory sinus arrhythmia (a parasympathetic measure) and skin conductance level (a sympathetic measure) in bvFTD. Next, we examined whether functional connectivity deficits in 21 autonomic-relevant, salience network node-pairs related to baseline autonomic dysfunction. Lower baseline respiratory sinus arrhythmia was associated with smaller volume in left ventral anterior insula (vAI), weaker connectivity between bilateral vAI and bilateral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and stronger connectivity between bilateral ACC and bilateral hypothalamus/amygdala. Lower baseline skin conductance level, in contrast, was associated with smaller volume in inferior temporal gyrus, dorsal mid-insula, and hypothalamus; weaker connectivity between bilateral ACC and right hypothalamus/amygdala; and stronger connectivity between bilateral dorsal anterior insula and periaqueductal gray. Our results suggest that baseline parasympathetic and sympathetic tone depends on the integrity of lateralized salience network hubs (left vAI for parasympathetic and right hypothalamus/amygdala for sympathetic) and highly calibrated ipsilateral and contralateral network connections. In bvFTD, deficits in this system may underlie resting parasympathetic and sympathetic disruption. The salience network maintains homeostasis and regulates autonomic nervous system activity. Whether within-network connectivity patterns underlie individual differences in resting parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system activity, however, is not well understood. We measured baseline autonomic nervous system activity in healthy controls and patients with behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia, a neurodegenerative disease characterized by resting autonomic deficits, and probed how salience network dysfunction relates to diminished parasympathetic and sympathetic outflow. Our results indicate that baseline parasympathetic and sympathetic tone are the product of complex, opposing intranetwork nodal interactions and depend on the integrity of highly tuned, lateralized salience network hubs (i.e., left ventral anterior insula for parasympathetic activity and right hypothalamus/amygdala for sympathetic activity).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0347-18.2018DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6191520PMC
October 2018

Neuroanatomy of Shared Conversational Laughter in Neurodegenerative Disease.

Front Neurol 2018 15;9:464. Epub 2018 Jun 15.

Berkeley Psychophysiology Center, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, United States.

Perceiving another person's emotional expression often sparks a corresponding signal in the observer. Shared conversational laughter is a familiar example. Prior studies of shared laughter have made use of task-based functional neuroimaging. While these methods offer insight in a controlled setting, the ecological validity of such controlled tasks has limitations. Here, we investigate the neural correlates of shared laughter in patients with one of a variety of neurodegenerative disease syndromes ( = 75), including Alzheimer's disease (AD), behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), right and left temporal variants of semantic dementia (rtvFTD, svPPA), nonfluent/agrammatic primary progressive aphasia (nfvPPA), corticobasal syndrome (CBS), and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). Patients were recorded in a brief unrehearsed conversation with a partner (e.g., a friend or family member). Laughter was manually labeled, and an automated system was used to assess the timing of that laughter relative to the partner's laughter. The probability of each participant with neurodegenerative disease laughing during or shortly after his or her partners' laughter was compared to differences in brain morphology using voxel-based morphometry, thresholded based on cluster size and a permutation method and including age, sex, magnet strength, disease-specific atrophy and total intracranial volumes as covariates. While no significant correlations were found at the critical T value, at a corrected voxelwise threshold of < 0.005, a cluster in the left posterior cingulate gyrus demonstrated a trend at = 0.08 ( = 4.54). Exploratory analysis with a voxelwise threshold of = 0.001 also suggests involvement of the left precuneus ( = 3.91) and right fusiform gyrus ( = 3.86). The precuneus has been previously implicated in the detection of socially complex laughter, and the fusiform gyrus has a well-described role in the recognition and processing of others' emotional cues. This study is limited by a relatively small sample size given the number of covariates. While further investigation is needed, these results support our understanding of the neural underpinnings of shared conversational laughter.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2018.00464DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6013725PMC
June 2018

Increased subjective experience of non-target emotions in patients with frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Curr Opin Behav Sci 2017 Jun 7;15:77-84. Epub 2017 Jun 7.

Institute of Personality and Social Research, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-5050, United States.

Although laboratory procedures are designed to produce specific emotions, participants often experience mixed emotions (i.e., target and non-target emotions). We examined non-target emotions in patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD), Alzheimer's disease (AD), other neurodegenerative diseases, and healthy controls. Participants watched film clips designed to produce three target emotions. Subjective experience of non-target emotions was assessed and emotional facial expressions were coded. Compared to patients with other neurodegenerative diseases and healthy controls, FTD patients reported more positive and negative non-target emotions, whereas AD patients reported more positive non-target emotions. There were no group differences in facial expressions of non-target emotions. We interpret these findings as reflecting deficits in processing interoceptive and contextual information resulting from neurodegeneration in brain regions critical for creating subjective emotional experience.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cobeha.2017.05.017DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5810592PMC
June 2017

Genuine Smiles by Patients During Marital Interactions are Associated with Better Caregiver Mental Health.

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 2019 08;74(6):975-987

Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley.

Objective: Providing care for a spouse with dementia is associated with an increased risk for poor mental health. To determine whether this vulnerability in caregivers is related to the expression of positive emotion, we examined 57 patients with Alzheimer's disease and behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia and their spouses as they discussed a marital conflict.

Method: Facial behavior during the discussion was objectively coded to identify Duchenne (i.e., genuine) smiles and non-Duchenne (i.e., polite) smiles. Caregiver mental health was measured using the Medical Outcomes Survey.

Results: Greater expression of Duchenne smiles by patients was associated with better caregiver mental health, even when accounting for covariates (i.e., diagnosis, patient cognitive functioning, and caregiver marital satisfaction). Greater expression of non-Duchenne smiles by patients was associated with worse caregiver health, but only when covariates were entered in the model. Expression of Duchenne and non-Duchenne smiles by caregivers was not associated with caregiver mental health.

Discussion: Patients' expression of Duchenne and non-Duchenne smiles may reveal important aspects of the emotional quality of the patient-caregiver relationship that influence caregiver burden and mental health.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbx157DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6941495PMC
August 2019

Empathic Accuracy Deficits in Patients with Neurodegenerative Disease: Association with Caregiver Depression.

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 2018 04 27;26(4):484-493. Epub 2017 Dec 27.

Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, CA. Electronic address:

Objectives: To investigate whether deficits in empathic accuracy (i.e., ability to recognize emotion in others) in patients with neurodegenerative disease are associated with greater depression in their caregivers.

Design: Two cross-sectional studies.

Setting: Academic medical center and research university.

Participants: Two independent samples (N = 172, N = 63) of patients with a variety of neurodegenerative diseases and their caregivers; comparison group of healthy couples.

Measurement: Patients' empathic accuracy was assessed in the laboratory using a novel dynamic tracking task (rating another person's changing emotions over time) and more traditional measures (recognizing the emotion expressed in photographs of facial expressions and by characters in films). Caregivers completed self-report inventories of depression.

Results: Lower empathic accuracy in patients was associated with greater depression in caregivers in both studies. In study 1, this association was found when empathic accuracy was measured using the dynamic tracking measure but not when measured using the more traditional photograph and film measures. In study 2, we found preliminary support for our theoretical model wherein lower empathic accuracy in patients is associated with increased caregiver stress (loneliness, strain, and burden), which in turn is associated with greater caregiver depression.

Conclusions: Caring for a patient with deficits in empathic accuracy is associated with greater loneliness, strain, and burden for caregivers, and increased depression. Caregivers may benefit from interventions designed to compensate for the stress and interpersonal loss associated with patients' declining empathic accuracy.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jagp.2017.10.012DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5860967PMC
April 2018

Greater Experience of Negative Non-Target Emotions by Patients with Neurodegenerative Diseases Is Related to Lower Emotional Well-Being in Caregivers.

Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord 2017 8;44(5-6):245-255. Epub 2017 Dec 8.

Institute of Personality and Social Research, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA.

Background: Behavioral symptoms in patients with neurodegenerative diseases can be particularly challenging for caregivers. Previously, we reported that patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and Alzheimer's disease (AD) experienced emotions that were atypical or incongruent with a given situation (i.e., non-target emotions).

Aim: We tested the hypothesis that greater experience of non-target emotions by patients is associated with lower caregiver emotional well-being.

Methods: 178 patients with FTD, AD, or other neurodegenerative diseases and 35 healthy individuals watched 3 films designed to induce amusement, sadness, and disgust, and then reported their emotions during the films. Caregivers of the patients reported their own emotional well-being on the Medical Outcomes Study 36-item Short-Form Health Survey.

Results: In response to the amusement and sadness (but not disgust) films, greater experience of non-target emotions by patients was related to lower caregiver emotional well-being. These effects were specific to patients' experience of negative non-target emotions (i.e., not found for positive non-target emotions or for negative or positive target emotions).

Conclusion: The findings reveal a previously unstudied patient behavior that is related to worse caregiver emotional well-being. Future research and clinical assessment may benefit from evaluating non-target emotions in patients.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1159/000481132DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5906194PMC
September 2018

Mistakes, Too Few to Mention? Impaired Self-conscious Emotional Processing of Errors in the Behavioral Variant of Frontotemporal Dementia.

Front Behav Neurosci 2017 17;11:189. Epub 2017 Oct 17.

Department of Neurology, UCSF Memory and Aging Center San Francisco, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, United States.

Anosognosia, or lack of awareness of one's deficits, is a core feature of the behavioral variant of frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD). We hypothesized that this deficit has its origins in failed emotional processing of errors. We studied autonomic and facial emotional reactivity to errors in patients with bvFTD ( = 17), Alzheimer's disease (AD, = 20), and healthy controls (HC, = 35) during performance of a timed two-alternative-choice button press task. Performance-related behavioral responses to errors were quantified using rates of error correction and post-error slowing of reaction times. Facial emotional responses were measured by monitoring facial reactivity via video and subsequently coding the type, duration and intensity of all emotional reactions. Skin conductance response (SCR) was measured via noninvasive sensors. SCR and total score for each facial emotion expression were quantified for each trial. Facial emotions were grouped into self-conscious (amusement, embarrassment) and negative (fear, sadness, anger, disgust, contempt) emotions. HCs corrected 99.4% of their errors. BvFTD patients corrected 94% (not statistically different compared with HC) and AD corrected 74.8% of their errors ( < 0.05 compared with HC and bvFTD). All groups showed similar post-error slowing. Errors in HCs were associated with greater facial reactivity and SCRs compared with non-error trials, including both negative and self-conscious emotions. BvFTD patients failed to produce self-conscious emotions or an increase in SCR for errors, although they did produce negative emotional responses to a similar degree as HCs. AD showed no deficit in facial reactivity to errors. Although, SCR was generally reduced in AD during error trials, they showed a preserved increase in SCR for errors relative to correct trials. These results demonstrate a specific deficit in emotional responses to errors in bvFTD, encompassing both physiological response and a specific deficit in self-conscious emotions, despite intact awareness and correction of errors. The findings provide a potential mechanism for anosognosia and possibly other behavioral abnormalities in bvFTD and highlight the importance of studying multiple channels of reactivity to errors, including performance related responses and emotional responses, in order to understand how impaired error processing could influence behavior.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2017.00189DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5651000PMC
October 2017