Visual exploration of emotional facial expressions in Parkinson's disease

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Parkinson's disease (PD) is associated with impairments in facial emotion recognition as well as visual and executive dysfunction. We investigated whether facial emotion categorization impairments in PD are attributable to visual scanning abnormalities by recording the eye movements of 16 non-demented PD and 20 healthy control (HC) participants during an emotion recognition task. We examined the influence of several factors that can affect visual scanning, including oculomotor, basic visual, and cognitive abilities (executive function). Increases in the number and duration of fixations in the top regions of surprise facial expressions were related to increases in recognition accuracy for this emotion in PD participants with left-sided motor-symptom onset. Compared to HC men, HC women spent less time fixating on fearful expressions. PD participants displayed oculomotor abnormalities (antisaccades), but these were unrelated to scanning patterns. Performance on visual measures (acuity, contrast sensitivity) correlated with scanning patterns in the PD group only. Poorer executive function was associated with longer fixation times in PD and with a greater number of fixations in HC. Our findings indicate a specific relation between facial emotion categorization impairments and scanning of facial expressions in PD. Furthermore, PD and HC participants’ scanning behaviors during an emotion categorization task were driven by different perceptual processes and cognitive strategies. Our results underscore the need to consider differences in perceptual and cognitive abilities in studies of visual scanning, particularly when examining this ability in patient populations for which both vision and cognition are impaired.

Original Citation

Clark U.S., Neargarder S., Cronin-Golomb A. (2010). Visual exploration of emotional facial expressions in Parkinson's disease. Neuropsychologia, 48(7), 1901-1913. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.03.006