Loss of disgust. Perception of faces and emotions in Huntington's disease

R Sprengelmeyer, A W Young, A J Calder, A Karnat, H Lange, V Hömberg, D I Perrett, D Rowland
Brain 1996, 119: 1647-65
Face perception and emotion recognition were investigated in a group of people with Huntington's disease and matched controls. In conventional tasks intended to explore the perception of age, sex, unfamiliar face identity (Benton test) and gaze direction from the face, the Huntington's disease group showed a borderline impairment of gaze direction perception and were significantly impaired on unfamiliar face matching. With a separate set of tasks using computerinterpolated ('morphed') facial images, people with Huntington's disease were markedly impaired at discriminating anger from fear, but experienced less difficulty with continua varying from male to female, between familiar identities, and from happiness to sadness. In a further test of recognition of facial expressions of basic emotions from the Ekman and Friesen (1976) series, interpolated images were created for six continua that lay around the perimeter of an emotion hexagon (happiness-surprise; surprise-fear; fear-sadness; sadness-disgust; disgust-anger; anger-happiness). In deciding which emotion these morphed images were most like, people with Huntington's disease again showed deficits in the recognition of anger and fear, and an especially severe problem with disgust, which was recognized only at chance level. A follow-up study with tests of facially and vocally expressed emotions confirmed that the recognition of disgust was markedly poor for the Huntington's disease group, still being no better than chance level. Questionnaires were also used to examine self-assessed emotion, but did not show such striking problems. Taken together, these data reveal severe impairments of emotion recognition in Huntington's disease, and show that the recognition of some emotions is more impaired than others. The possibility that certain basic emotions may have dedicated neural substrates needs to be seriously considered: among these, disgust is a prime candidate.

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