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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Evaluation of emotion processing in HIV-infected patients and correlation with cognitive performance

Eleonora Baldonero12*, Nicoletta Ciccarelli12, Massimiliano Fabbiani1, Manuela Colafigli1, Erika Improta12, Alessandro D’Avino1, Annalisa Mondi1, Roberto Cauda1, Simona Di Giambenedetto1 and Maria Caterina Silveri2

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Clinical and Infectious Diseases, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Rome, Italy

2 Memory Clinic, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Rome, Italy

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BMC Psychology 2013, 1:3  doi:10.1186/2050-7283-1-3

Published: 27 February 2013

Abstract

Background

Facial emotion recognition depends on cortical and subcortical networks. HIV infection of the central nervous system can damage these networks, leading to impaired facial emotion recognition.

Methods

We performed a cross-sectional single cohort study consecutively enrolling HIV + subjects during routine outpatient visits. Age, gender and education-matched HIV-negative healthy individuals were also selected. Subjects were submitted to a Facial Emotion Recognition Test, which assesses the ability to recognize six basic emotions (disgust, anger, fear, happiness, surprise, sadness). The score for each emotion and a global score (obtained by summing scores for each emotion) were analyzed. General cognitive status of patients was also assessed.

Results

A total of 49 HIV + and 20 HIV − subjects were enrolled. On the Facial Emotion Recognition Test, ANOVA revealed a significantly lower performance of HIV + subjects than healthy controls in recognizing fear. Moreover, fear facial emotion recognition was directly correlated with Immediate Recall of Rey Words. The lower the patients’ neurocognitive performance the less accurate they were in recognizing happiness. AIDS-defining events were negatively related to the correct recognition of happiness.

Conclusions

Fear recognition deficit in HIV + patients might be related to the impaired function of neural networks in the frontostriatal system. AIDS events, including non-neurological ones, may have a negative effect on this system. Inclusion of an emotion recognition test in the neuropsychological test battery could help clinicians during the long term management of HIV-infected patients, to better understand the cognitive mechanisms involved in the reduction of emotion recognition ability and the impact of this impairment on daily life.

Keywords:
Emotions; HIV; Neurocogntive correlates of emotions; HIV-related factors and emotions