We all know that alcohol has profound neurological impacts, but what is its role in emotion recognition?
According to a new study by Dr. Lauren Hoffman and a team of researchers, alcohol use can significantly impair our abilities to recognize crucial emotions in other people, especially anger. Dr. Hoffman found that recovering alcoholics, while generally able to make out facial features, were much worse at recognizing emotions like anger than the control.
There is some theoretical justification for expecting these results. Emotion recognition requires a series of complicated neurological processes, many of which are the same processes that are suppressed or distorted from long-term alcohol use.
In order to conduct this investigation, Dr. Hoffman’s team gathered 73 volunteers, divided between non-users and those undergoing inpatient treatment for their alcohol use disorder. The latter group was comprised of former alcoholics who had ceased use for approximately three months.
This focus on recovering alcoholics would not only shed a light on the effects of alcohol but also showcases the long-term impact of alcohol use on people’s brains.
The participants were asked to complete two recognition tasks. First, they were shown a series of images with neutral faces, divided between male and female. The goal here was to rule out whether alcohol use disorder had degraded the ability to distinguish physical features such as these. There did not prove to be any difference between treatment and control groups, helping to rule out this possibility.
Additionally, participants were exposed to a series of faces divided between four expressions: neutral, happy, angry, and sad. They were asked to determine which expression was being conveyed, being prompted with choices such as “happy or sad.”
Consistently, those recovering from alcohol use disorder were less able to identify the emotions portrayed than the control group. This was especially true for faces that displayed anger.
Interestingly, such failures to effectively identify angry faces were also deeply correlated with self-reported measures of interpersonal problems.
Not only did this study help shed light on the role of alcoholism in emotion recognition, but it also helped shed further light on the cognitive underpinnings behind our ability to recognize emotions. We already know that this is generally a learned skill, but apparently it is also a skill that can be subjected to disrepair.
What is perhaps most interesting is the connection between alcoholism, interpersonal problems, and an inability to recognize anger. This suggests distinctive cognitive mechanisms for various emotions!
So, it goes without saying that not drinking excessively will help you learn emotion recognition, but so will taking one of Humintell’s exciting training courses!