New facial recognition findings could help develop new treatments for conduct disorder

September 7, 2017, University of Bath

Teenage girls and boys with severe antisocial behaviour have difficulty recognising facial expressions and look less at important parts of the face, such as the eyes, when viewing faces, according to a new study published today.

Researchers at the University of Bath (UK) and the University of Southampton used eye-tracking methods to investigate the causes of difficulties in teenagers with (CD). They hope their findings could pave the way for new treatments for children and young people with the condition.

Their results, published in the prestigious Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, show that girls and boys with CD have difficulties in recognising facial expressions compared to a control group of typically-developing children. These problems were particularly evident in boys with the condition and were seen for both static images and video-clips showing dynamic facial expressions.

The researchers also studied the participants' eye movements while they were viewing the facial expressions, to see whether their emotion recognition problems were explained by abnormal eye movements. They found that girls and boys with CD were less likely to look at the of the face - which is important because the eyes are so critical in terms of communicating how we are feeling. However, the researchers found that the abnormal eye movements seen in the girls and boys with CD did not fully explain the emotion recognition difficulties they display, suggesting that even when they do look at the right part of the face, they still find it more challenging to recognise the emotional .

Symptoms of CD range from lying and truancy, through to physical violence and weapon use at its more extreme end. It is thought that at least 5% of school-age children are affected, yet the condition is poorly understood and thought to be under-diagnosed and often untreated. It is different from more well-known behavioural conditions, like ADHD, although many children suffer from both disorders at the same time.

This new study suggests CD is linked to emotion recognition difficulties and in both boys and girls, which might have important implications for developing new psychological interventions for this condition. The fact that boys with CD showed more problems in recognising emotions and more atypical eye movements than girls suggests that boys with this condition might need more comprehensive and long-term interventions than girls.

The senior author on the study from the University of Bath's Department of Psychology, Dr Graeme Fairchild, explains: "We found that boys and girls with severe antisocial behaviour find it difficult to recognise negative facial expressions - particularly angry, disgusted, and fearful faces - and look less at the eye region of the face when trying to recognise facial expressions. These findings could lead to the development of new treatments aiming to enhance emotion recognition and empathy or even prevention programmes for at-risk children."

Lead author, Dr Nayra Martin-Key, from the University of Southampton added: "This is the first study to combine an emotion recognition task with eye-tracking methods to examine recognition of, and attention to, in boys and girls with Conduct Disorder. We found that having Conduct Disorder and being male led to a 'double-hit' - the boys with Conduct Disorder found it hardest to recognise emotional faces and were least likely to look at the eyes of the faces, whereas the typically-developing girls were the best at emotion recognition and fixated most on the eye region of the face. This suggests that interventions designed to improve emotion might need to be tailored according to gender, with boys with Conduct Disorder needing a longer or more comprehensive intervention than ."

The study involved 50 young people with CD and 51 typically-developing , all aged between 13-18 years.

Explore further: New study reveals that causes of severe antisocial behavior may differ for boys and girls

More information: Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (2017). DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.12795

Related Stories

New study reveals that causes of severe antisocial behavior may differ for boys and girls

July 21, 2017
The causes of severe antisocial behaviour may differ between boys and girls, which could pave the way for new sex-specific treatments, according to a major new study published today (Friday 21 July).

Computer algorithm links facial masculinity to autism

August 25, 2017
A link between masculine facial features and autism has been discovered by researchers from The University of Western Australia, Telethon Kids Institute and Princess Margaret Hospital for Children.

Antisocial and non-antisocial siblings share difficulty recognising emotions

January 21, 2015
Teenagers with brothers and sisters who exhibit severe antisocial behaviour share a similar impairment with their siblings in recognising emotions, according to a new study from the University of Southampton.

Children with autism find understanding facial expressions difficult

March 30, 2017
A team from Bristol's School of Experimental Psychology aimed to find out whether six basic facial expressions differing in intensity are challenging for young people with autism to recognise.

Recommended for you

Suicide risk in abused teen girls linked to mother-daughter conflict

October 18, 2018
Teenage girls who were maltreated as children are more likely to entertain suicidal thoughts if the relationship with their mother is poor and the degree of conflict between the two of them high.

Study shows how bias can influence people estimating the ages of other people

October 17, 2018
A trio of researchers from the University of New South Wales and Western Sydney University has discovered some of the factors involved when people make errors in estimating the ages of other people. In their paper published ...

Infants are more likely to learn when with a peer

October 16, 2018
Infants are more likely to learn from on-screen instruction when paired with another infant as opposed to viewing the lesson alone, according to a new study.

Researchers use brain cells in a dish to study genetic origins of schizophrenia

October 16, 2018
A study in Biological Psychiatry has established a new analytical method for investigating the complex genetic origins of mental illnesses using brain cells that are grown in a dish from human embryonic stem cells. Researchers ...

Income and wealth affect the mental health of Australians, study shows

October 16, 2018
Australians who have higher incomes and greater wealth are more likely to experience better mental health throughout their lives, new research led by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has found.

Study suggests biological basis for depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances in older adults

October 15, 2018
UC San Francisco researchers, in collaboration with the unique Brazilian Biobank for Aging Studies (BBAS) at the University of São Paulo, have shown that the earliest stages of the brain degeneration associated with Alzheimer's ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.