Bipolar Patients Mistake Emotions Even During Remission
> 12/12/2007 2:31:45 PM

Bipolar Disorder drags sufferers up to manic heights and down to depressive ditches, leaving them to try and restabilize their lives during remission periods. These remissions vary in length, with some patients cycling much faster, but almost every patient values them however fleeting. A new study from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki now suggests that significant symptoms linger even into the periods once considered emotional sanctuaries.

Dr. Vasilis Bozikas evaluated 19 bipolar subjects (all in remission) and 22 controls on the Affective Prosody Test (APT). Prosody is an all-encompassing term for the information that can be gleaned from oral communication aside from the words; changes in pitch, stresses, and pauses can all be invaluable hints about the intended meaning of a sentence. Subjects in this experiment listened to mundane sentences and then attempted to assign one of six emotions to the speaker: happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, anger, and neutral. Bipolar subjects were significantly less accurate at determining the emotion being communicated.

This accuracy difference alone is noteworthy. Bipolar patients experience personal emotional instability, but that does not mean that they must then by necessity evaluate the emotions of others incorrectly. This finding confirms previous observations that bipolar disorder is both perceptual and experiential, and it also shows that these problems carry on into remission. This may explain why so many bipolar patients have trouble with jobs and relationships even when they are not in the throes of a manic or depressive episode.

Dr. Bozikas found another, truly intriguing result, when he sifted the data even more thoroughly— bipolar subjects have differing deficits for different emotions, and these deficits only appear in females. The order of emotions for bipolar subjects, from best recognized to worst, was: neutral, happiness, surprise, anger, fear, and sadness. This is similar to, but not exactly the same as the control subject list: neutral, happiness, fear, surprise, and anger/sadness. In addition to this difference in order, there was a very specific deficit for women trying to detect fear and surprise. Men performed exactly the same as their control counterparts for every emotion. It is not clear yet why this sex difference exists, but future research may find that men and women process emotion differently to begin with, or that bipolar disorder strikes them differently. Whatever the eventual finding, this study has put us farther along the path to understanding a tragic mental illness and its lifelong impact.

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