Emotion recognition deficits in pediatric anxiety disorders: implications for amygdala research

INTRODUCTION: Anxiety disorders in adults involve aberrant processing of emotional information that is hypothesized to reflect perturbations in the amygdala. This study examines the relationship between face-emotion recognition and anxiety in a sample of children and adolescents participating in a brain-imaging study of amygdala structure and function. METHODS: This study recruited 15 children and adolescents with ongoing anxiety disorders and 11 psychiatrically healthy comparisons group-matched on age, gender, and IQ. Face-emotion recognition was assessed using the Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Accuracy Scale (DANVA). RESULTS: Children and adolescents with anxiety disorders exhibited significantly poorer performance on the face-emotion recognition task compared to healthy controls (z = 2.2; p < 0.05). This difference was found only for expressions posed by adults but not children. DISCUSSION: Reduced accuracy on a face-emotion recognition test is consistent with perturbed amygdala function in pediatric anxiety disorders. CONCLUSION: As this study was conducted in a sample undergoing a neuroimaging investigation of amygdala integrity, future analyses will examine associations among amygdala function, clinical anxiety, and face-recognition abilities.