Impaired processing of emotion in music, faces and voices supports a generalized emotional decoding deficit in alcoholism


Aim: To test the generalized emotional decoding impairment hypothesis in alcoholism.

Design: Cross-sectional behavioural study comparing emotion recognition conveyed by faces, voices and musical excerpts.

Setting: Alcohol detoxification unit of Brugmann University Hospital.

Participants: Twenty-five recently detoxified alcohol-dependent patients were compared to 25 normal controls matched for sex, age and educational level.

Measurements: From faces, voices and musical excerpts, participants were instructed to rate the intensity of several emotions on a scale from 0 for 'absent' to 9 for 'highly present'. Depression, anxiety and sustained/selective attention capacities were controlled for.

Findings: Alcohol-dependent patients were less accurate than controls in identifying the target emotion in faces (P < 0.001), voices (P < 0.001) and musical excerpts (P < 0.001).

Conclusions: Alcohol-dependent patients who are completing detoxification are impaired in recognizing emotions conveyed by faces, voices and music; these results suggest a generalized emotional decoding impairment. Hypothetically, deficits in the fronto-parietal mirror neurone system could link all these disturbances together.

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