Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society

Research Articles

Let's Face It: Facial Emotion Processing Is Impaired in Bipolar Disorder

Tamsyn Elizabeth Van Rheenena1a2 c1 and Susan Lee Rossella1a2

a1 Brain and Psychological Sciences Research Centre, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

a2 Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre, Central Clinical School, Monash University and the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


Patients with bipolar disorder (BD) have difficulty in recognizing and discriminating facial emotions. However, beyond this broad finding, existing literature is equivocal about the specific nature of impairments, and progress toward adequately profiling facial emotion processing in BD is hampered by methodological inconsistencies. The current study aimed to advance the literature by comparing 50 BD patients and 52 controls on a series of facial emotion processing tasks. Results indicated that patients with BD had a small, yet consistent impairment in emotion processing overall. This impairment did not vary as a function of specific emotions, tasks, or intensities between groups, and was not influenced by current mood state. These results suggest that past inconsistencies in the literature are unlikely to be attributable to task related artifacts influencing the estimation of an effect. These findings add to our understanding of social cognition in BD, and have important implications for clinicians treating patients with the disorder. (JINS, 2014, 20, 1–9)

(Received July 22 2013)

(Revised November 24 2013)

(Accepted November 25 2013)

(Online publication January 15 2014)


  • Cognition;
  • Emotion;
  • Neuropsychology;
  • Emotion perception;
  • Social cognition;
  • Mood disorders;
  • Emotion recognition


c1 Correspondence and reprint requests to: Tamsyn Van Rheenen, Cognitive Neuropsychiatry Lab, Monash Alfred Psychiatry research centre (MAPrc), Level 4, 607 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne, VIC 3004, Australia. E-mail: