BackgroundTo elucidate whether abnormal facial emotion processing represents a vulnerability factor for major depression, some studies have explored deficits in emotion processing in individuals at familial risk for depression. Nevertheless, these studies have provided mixed results. However, no studies on facial emotion processing have been conducted in at-risk samples with early or attenuated signs of depression, such as individuals with affective temperaments who are characterized by subclinical depressive moods, cognitions, and behaviors that resemble those that occur in patients with major depression. MethodsPresence and severity of depressive symptoms, affective temperaments, death wishes, suicidal ideation, and suicide planning were explored in 231 participants with a mean age 39.9years (SD=14.57). Participants also completed an emotion recognition task with 80 emotional face stimuli expressing fear, angry, sad, happy, and neutral facial expressions. ResultsParticipants with higher scores on affective temperamental dimensions containing a depressive component, compared to those with lower scores, reported more depressive symptoms, death wishes, suicide ideation and planning, and an increased tendency to interpret neutral facial expressions as emotional facial expressions; in particular, neutral facial expressions were interpreted more negatively, mostly as sad facial expressions. However, there were no group differences in identification and discrimination of facial expressions of happiness, sadness, fear, and anger. ConclusionsA negative bias in interpretation of neutral facial expressions, but not accuracy deficits in recognizing emotional facial expressions, may represent a vulnerability factor for major depression. However, further research is needed.