Magazine article Science News

Wrong Impression: Bipolar Kids Misinterpret Facial Cues as Hostile

Magazine article Science News

Wrong Impression: Bipolar Kids Misinterpret Facial Cues as Hostile

Article excerpt

Children with bipolar disorder are more likely than other kids to read hostility in bland facial expressions, a new study shows. Misinterpreting social cues might contribute to irritability and the unprovoked aggression that bipolar children sometimes direct toward others, the researchers say.

While the children were misconstruing facial cues, excessive activity arose in brain areas that are associated with emotion processing, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed. The study is the first to combine tests of facial interpretation and simultaneous MRI measurements in brain regions pivotal to bipolar disorder in children, says study coauthor Ellen Leibenluft, a psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Md.

The researchers compared 22 bipolar children with 21 mentally healthy children. Both groups averaged 14 years of age. Eighteen of the bipolar children were taking some form of psychiatric medication.

The participants viewed pictures of people's faces and answered questions about the hostility of each face. The faces were standard representations of anger, fear, happiness, and a neutral mood. The bipolar children rated the first three categories on a par with the other children but read more hostility into the neutral faces than did the others, the researchers report in the June 6 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

MRI scans of the bipolar children as they rated the neutral face showed revved-up activity in brain regions known to process emotions, particularly in an area called the amygdala, says study coauthor Brendan A. Rich, a child psychologist at NIMH.

Previous research had indicated that bipolar children tend to have smaller amygdalas than other children do, says psychiatrist Melissa R DelBello of the University of Cincinnati. …

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