Computerized analysis of facial expressions in serious mental illness

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Blunted facial affect is a transdiagnostic component of Serious Mental Illness (SMI) and is associated with a host of negative outcomes. However, blunted facial affect is a poorly understood phenomenon, with no known cures or treatments. A critical step in better understanding its phenotypic expression involves clarifying which facial expressions are altered in specific ways and under what contexts. The current literature suggests that individuals with SMI show decreased positive facial expressions, but typical, or even increased negative facial expressions during laboratory tasks. While this literature has coalesced around general trends, significantly more nuance is available regarding what components facial expressions are atypical and how those components are associated with increased severity of clinical ratings. The present project leveraged computerized facial analysis to test whether clinician-rated blunted affect is driven by decreases in duration, intensity, or frequency of positive versus other facial expressions during a structured clinical interview. Stable outpatients meeting criteria for SMI (N = 59) were examined. Facial expression did not generally vary as a function of clinical diagnosis. Overall, clinically-rated blunted affect was not associated with positive expressions, but was associated with decreased surprise and increased anger, sadness, and fear expressions. Blunted affect is not a monolithic lack of expressivity, and increased precision in operationally defining it is critical for uncovering its causes and maintaining factors. Our discussion focuses on this effort, and on advancing digital phenotyping of blunted facial affect more generally.

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Schizophrenia research

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