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.