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Risk or resilience? Empathic abilities in patients with bipolar disorders and their first-degree relatives
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Dr Andreas Finkelmeyer
Seidel EM, Habel U, Finkelmeyer A, Hasmann A, Dobmeier M, Derntl B
Journal of Psychiatric Research
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Endophenotypes are intermediate phenotypes which are considered a more promising marker of genetic risk than illness itself. While previous research mostly used cognitive deficits, emotional functions are of greater relevance for bipolar disorder regarding the characteristic emotional hyper-reactability and deficient social-emotional competence. Hence, the aim of the present study was to clarify whether empathic abilities can serve as a possible endophenotype of bipolar disorder by applying a newly developed task in bipolar patients and their first-degree relatives. Three components of empathy (emotion recognition, perspective taking and affective responsiveness) have been assessed in a sample of 21 bipolar patients, 21 first-degree relatives and 21 healthy controls. Data analysis indicated significant differences between controls and patients for emotion recognition and affective responsiveness but not for perspective taking. This shows that in addition to difficulties in recognizing facial emotional expressions, bipolar patients have difficulties in identifying emotions they would experience in a given situation. However, the ability to take the perspective of another person in an emotional situation was intact but decreased with increasing severity of residual hypomanic and depressive symptoms. Relatives performed comparably bad on emotion recognition but did not differ from controls or patients in affective responsiveness. This study is the first to show that deficient emotion recognition is the only component of empathy which forms a possible endophenotype of bipolar disorder. This has important implications for prevention strategies. Furthermore, changes in affective responsiveness in first-degree relatives show a potential resilience marker.
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