Deficits in Emotion Recognition in Pediatric Bipolar Disorder: The Mediating Effects of Irritability

Background: Pediatric Bipolar Disorder (PBD) is a debilitating condition associated with impairment in many domains. Social functioning is one of the disorder’s most notable areas of impairment and this deficit may be in part due to difficulties recognizing affect in others. Methods: In the present study, medication naïve youth with PBD were compared to age-matched healthy controls on their ability to a) distinguish between categorical emotions, such as happiness, anger, and sadness on the Emotion Recognition Test (ER-40) and b) differentiate between levels of emotional intensity on an adapted version of the Penn Emotional Acuity Task (Chicago-PEAT). Results: Results indicated that PBD youth misidentified sad, fearful, and neutral faces more often than controls, and PBD girls mislabeled ‘very angry’ faces more often than healthy girls. A mediation analyses indicated that these diagnostic group differences on emotion recognition were significantly mediated by irritability. Limitations: The Chicago-PEAT only examined variations in emotional intensity for the emotions happy and anger. Additionally, all results are correlational; therefore causal inferences cannot be made. Conclusions: Supporting previous literature, the present findings highlight the importance of emotion recognition deficits in PBD individuals. Additionally, the irritability associated with PBD may be an important mechanism of this deficit and may thus represent an important target for treatment.