Emotion & social cognition

Detecting participant abilities to recognise emotion in facial expressions and identify deficits

Social cognition remains a growing field of research focused on understanding how we process affective information. Our social cognition tests assess the ability to respond to emotion-laden stimuli.

Our Emotional Bias Task (EBT) and Emotion Recognition Task (ERT) have been developed to measure distinct aspects of social cognition. The population group and hypothesis of your study will indicate which is most suitable for you.

Emotional Bias Task (EBT)

Identifies specific, mood related deficit in emotion perception and assesses the tendency to perceive one specific emotion over another in mood disorders

Emotion Recognition Task (ERT)

Measures general deficit in emotion recognition, particularly where global emotion detection is of interest, usually in groups where social interaction is impaired

How have researchers used ERT?


Part of the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder is impairment in social interactions and communication, and difficulty in identifying the emotions of other people may contribute to these social deficits.

In young people (aged 6-16), participants with autism spectrum disorder were less accurate than controls on ERT. This reduced accuracy in identifying expressions was observed across all emotions and all levels of emotional intensity, demonstrating a global deficit in recognition of all six basic emotions that is not limited to ambiguous expressions.
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Difficulty in the perception of emotions is a widely recognised feature of schizophrenia, and likely contributes to deficits in social cognition that are often present before the onset of psychosis.

In patients with treatment-resistant schizophrenia, the number of facial expressions correctly identified in ERT was significantly correlated with their global functioning (GAF score; rho=0.65). ERT performance also showed no change over a six-month period, demonstrating that this is a stable deficit in patients.

In support of the idea that emotion deficits contribute to social deficits in schizophrenia, emotion recognition accuracy and latency were shown to be significantly impaired in participants at ultra-high risk of psychosis compared with healthy controls. Recognition of anger, disgust and fear were significantly worse in the ultra high-risk participants, suggesting that detection of negative emotions is a key deficit associated with schizophrenia risk groups.
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How have researchers used EBT?

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A negative perceptual bias has been hypothesised to contribute to the negative mood experienced in depression.

In one study, 193 healthy participants were split into two groups based on depression symptom (BDI) scores: low mood and healthy. There was a significant difference in bias point on EBT Happy-Sad between the two groups, suggesting that a negativity bias detected by EBT is associated with depressive symptoms.

A more recent study also explored the relationship between EBT bias point and depressive symptoms. A correlation between bias point and depressive symptoms was found, such that a lower bias point, indicating a bias towards identifying sadness, was related to a higher score for depressive symptoms.

Other mood disorders

Similar to the sadness bias in depression, increased aggressive behaviour may relate to a bias towards perceiving aggression in facial expressions.

Penton-Voak et al. reports the results of a series of studies investigating the relationship between emotion perception bias and aggression. Two studies recruited healthy volunteers, and the third included a group of adolescents recruited from a youth program who had a history of aggressive behaviour. In all studies, EBT Happy-Angry was assessed at baseline and follow-up. Those who showed a decrease in state anger at follow-up (assessed by self-report in the healthy groups and observer report in the aggression group) also demonstrated a shift in bias point towards happiness, indicating that EBT bias point is sensitive to this shift in aggression.

Another study used EBT Happy-Angry and compared bias points in youth with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) to healthy youth (Stoddard et al., 2016). DMDD participants had a lower bias point than control youths, demonstrating a tendency towards perceiving anger in these participants who exhibit severe temper outbursts.
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