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J Psychiatr Res. 2006 Mar;40(2):105-11.

Emotion recognition bias for contempt and anger in body dysmorphic disorder.

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  • 1Body Dysmorphic Disorder Clinic, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Charlestown, MA 02129, USA.


Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) patients are preoccupied with imagined defects or flaws in appearance (e.g., size or shape of nose). They are afraid of negative evaluations by others and often suffer significant morbidity including hospitalization and suicide attempts. Many patients experience ideas of reference, e.g., they often believe others take special notice of their "flaw". Facial expressions play an important role in conveying negative or positive feelings, and sympathy or rejection. In this study, we investigated emotion recognition deficits in 18 BDD patients and 18 healthy controls. Participants were presented with two questionnaires accompanying facial photographs. One questionnaire included self-referent scenarios ("Imagine that the bank teller is looking at you. What is his facial expression like?"), whereas the other one included other-referent scenarios ("Imagine that the bank teller is looking at a friend of yours," etc.), and participants were asked to identify the corresponding emotion (e.g., anger, contempt, neutral, or surprise). Overall, BDD patients, relative to controls, had difficulty identifying emotional expressions in self-referent scenarios. They misinterpreted more expressions as contemptuous and angry in self-referent scenarios than did controls. However, they did not have significantly more difficulties identifying emotional expressions in other-referent scenarios than controls. Thus, poor insight and ideas of reference, common in BDD, might be related to a bias for misinterpreting other people's emotional expressions as negative. Perceiving others as rejecting might reinforce concerns about one's personal perceived ugliness and social desirability.

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