Seeing sadness: comorbid effects of loneliness and depression on emotional face processing

Cheeta, Survjit, Beevers, Joseph, Chambers, Sophie, Szameitat, Andre and Chandler, Chris (2021) Seeing sadness: comorbid effects of loneliness and depression on emotional face processing. Brain and Behavior, 11 (7). pp. 1-9. ISSN 2162-3279


Loneliness and depression are highly comorbid, and both are associated with social processing deficits. However, there is a paucity of research aimed at differentiating emotional face‐processing deficits that are comorbid to loneliness and depression versus those attributable to loneliness or depression only.

502 participants were recruited and screened for loneliness (UCLA Loneliness Scale) and depression (Beck Depression Inventory). Of those, seventy‐seven took part in a fully crossed 2 (loneliness; low/high) * 2 (depression; low/high) factorial between‐subjects design study to assess individual and comorbid effects of loneliness and depression on a computerized morphed facial emotion processing task.

Comorbidity was confirmed by a significant positive correlation between loneliness and depression. On the emotion processing task, loneliness was associated with an increased accuracy for sad faces and decreased accuracy for fearful faces and depression with decreased accuracy in identifying happy faces. Comorbid loneliness and depression resulted in an increased misattribution of neutral faces as sad, an effect that was also seen in those who were either only lonely or only depressed.

This if the first study to tease out comorbid versus independent effects of loneliness and depression on social information processing. To the extent that emotional biases may act as risk factors for detrimental outcomes, our findings highlight the importance of treating both loneliness and depression.

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