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Understanding facial emotion perception in Parkinson's disease: The role of configural processing

DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.08.002
  • Parkinson'S Disease
  • Configural Processing
  • Facial Emotion
  • Inversion Effect
  • Second-Order Relations
  • Medicine


Abstract Parkinson's disease (PD) has been frequently associated with facial emotion recognition impairments, which could adversely affect the social functioning of those patients. Facial emotion recognition requires processing of the spatial relations between facial features, known as the facial configuration. Few studies, however, have investigated this ability in people with PD. We hypothesized that facial emotion recognition impairments in patients with PD could be accounted for by a deficit in configural processing. To assess this hypothesis, three tasks were proposed to 10 patients with PD and 10 healthy controls (HC): (i) a facial emotion recognition task with upright faces, (ii) a similar task with upside-down faces, to explore the face inversion effect, and (iii) a configural task to assess participants’ abilities to detect configural modifications made on a horizontal or vertical axis. The results showed that when compared with the HC group, the PD group had impaired facial emotion recognition, in particular for faces expressing anger and fear, and exhibited reduced face inversion effect for these emotions. More importantly, the PD group's performance on the configural task to detect vertical modifications was lower than the HC group's. Taken together, these results suggest the presence of a configural processing alteration in patients with PD, especially for vertical, second-order information. Furthermore, configural performance was positively correlated with emotion recognition for anger, disgust, and fear, suggesting that facial emotion recognition could be related, at least partially, to configural processing.

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