Facial expression to emotional stimuli in non-psychotic disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis

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Facial expression of emotion is crucial to social interaction and emotion regulation; therefore, altered facial expressivity can be a contributing factor in social isolation, difficulties with emotion regulation and a target for therapy. This article provides a systematic review and meta-analysis of the literature on automatic emotional facial expression in people with non-psychotic disorders compared to healthy comparison groups. Studies in the review used an emotionally salient visual induction method, and reported on automatic facial expression in response to congruent stimuli.

A total of 39 studies show alterations in emotional facial expression across all included disorders, except anxiety disorders. In depression, decreases in facial expression are mainly evident for positive affect. In eating disorders, a meta-analysis showed decreased facial expressivity in response to positive and negative stimuli. Studies in autism partially support generally decreased facial expressivity in this group.

The data included in this review point towards decreased facial emotional expressivity in individuals with different non-psychotic disorders. This is the first review to synthesise facial expression studies across clinical disorders.

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