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Psychol Bull. 2011 Nov;137(6):998-1028. doi: 10.1037/a0025348.

Facial affect processing and depression susceptibility: cognitive biases and cognitive neuroscience.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, USA.


Facial affect processing is essential to social development and functioning and is particularly relevant to models of depression. Although cognitive and interpersonal theories have long described different pathways to depression, cognitive-interpersonal and evolutionary social risk models of depression focus on the interrelation of interpersonal experience, cognition, and social behavior. We therefore review the burgeoning depressive facial affect processing literature and examine its potential for integrating disciplines, theories, and research. In particular, we evaluate studies in which information processing or cognitive neuroscience paradigms were used to assess facial affect processing in depressed and depression-susceptible populations. Most studies have assessed and supported cognitive models. This research suggests that depressed and depression-vulnerable groups show abnormal facial affect interpretation, attention, and memory, although findings vary based on depression severity, comorbid anxiety, or length of time faces are viewed. Facial affect processing biases appear to correspond with distinct neural activity patterns and increased depressive emotion and thought. Biases typically emerge in depressed moods but are occasionally found in the absence of such moods. Indirect evidence suggests that childhood neglect might cultivate abnormal facial affect processing, which can impede social functioning in ways consistent with cognitive-interpersonal and interpersonal models. However, reviewed studies provide mixed support for the social risk model prediction that depressive states prompt cognitive hypervigilance to social threat information. We recommend prospective interdisciplinary research examining whether facial affect processing abnormalities promote-or are promoted by-depressogenic attachment experiences, negative thinking, and social dysfunction.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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