Monday, February 26, 2007

Alcoholics have trouble reading facial expressions

Alcoholics are poor at reading facial expressions that signal emotions, and this deficit predicts relapse, researchers in Belgium have found.

The researchers presented alcoholics in a treatment program and a matched control group with a series of photographs showing emotional facial expressions (EFE) and asked them to identify the emotion displayed and its degree of intensity. Alcoholics consistently lagged on this test. Moreover, individuals who were at the bottom of the scale in this skill were very liable to drop out of treatment and relapse.

Skill at recognizing emotional expressions did not improve after only three months of abstinence, the researchers found.

Marie-Line Foisy, a researcher at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles and corresponding author for the study, said, "It may be that alcoholics with more severe difficulties in recognizing EFE also have more difficulties in dealing with the conventional detoxification process," said Foisy. "They may also benefit from specific training programs aimed at improving EFE recognition, or more general interpersonal skills." Source.

Comment: This research suggests that alcoholics may benefit from a support environment that provides peer feedback, a key element in improving recognition of other people's feelings and in raising one's interpersonal skills. Meetings that incorporate feedback ("crosstalk") appear to have a distinct clinical advantage along this dimension.

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