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The Processing of Emotion in Patients With Huntington's Disease: Variability and Differential Deficits in Disgust

Hayes, Catherine J. PhD*; Stevenson, Richard J. DPhil; Coltheart, Max PhD*

Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology: December 2009 - Volume 22 - Issue 4 - p 249-257
doi: 10.1097/WNN.0b013e3181c124af
Original Studies

Background Some studies of emotion recognition in Huntington's disease (HD) have not supported early reports of selective impairment in the recognition of facial expressions of disgust. This inconsistency could imply that loss of disgust is not a feature of all patients with this disease.

Objectives This study examined whether disproportionate impairment in the recognition of disgust was present in some HD patients and not in others. Second, we examined whether patients unable to recognize facial disgust had parallel impairments in other aspects of the emotion.

Method Fourteen HD patients and 14 age-matched healthy controls and education-matched healthy controls were first assessed on facial emotion recognition, with follow-up of individual-level analyses on patients D.W. and M.J.

Results Although the group-level analyses revealed a broad profile of impaired recognition of negative emotions, individual-level analyses revealed a selective impairment of disgust in 47% of HD patients and of fear in 13%. Cross-modal impairments were only present for disgust, and then only in D.W. and M.J., who were unable to recognize disgust faces and had differential deficits on other emotion tasks: auditory recognition of vocal disgust expressions, matching the label “disgust” to a picture of a disgusting scene, and semantic knowledge of disgust elicitors.

Conclusion The findings support the view that impairment in the recognition of disgusted facial expressions may reflect processes involving the central aspects of disgust knowledge.

*Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science

Department of Psychology, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Reprints: Richard J. Stevenson, DPhil, Department of Psychology, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales 2109, Australia (e-mail:

Received for publication February 18, 2009

accepted September 13, 2009

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.