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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Emotional Gaze in Frontotemporal Lobar Dementia

  • Author(s): Yuan, Joyce Wei
  • Advisor(s): Levenson, Robert W
  • et al.

Frontotemporal lobar dementia (FTLD) is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the frontal and temporal regions of the brain. Behavioral characteristics of FTLD include reduced reactivity to emotional stimuli and decreased ability to recognize emotional states in others. Though emotional deficits have been documented in FTLD, little is known about where the breakdown in emotional processing occurs. The present study assessed whether deficits occur at the level of attention deployment and whether attention to emotional cues can predict performance on tests of emotional reactivity and emotion recognition in a sample of 23 FTLD patients and 24 normal controls. Eye movements were tracked during viewing of emotional stimuli, as a proxy of visual attention to emotional cues. Latency of first fixation and percent tracked time were assessed. In a paired-faces task, where participants viewed emotional and neutral faces side-by-side, FTLD patients showed a lack of attentional preference for negative emotional information by gazing equally at negative and neutral faces. In an emotional faces task, where participants viewed a series of emotional faces, FTLD patients spent less time gazing at the eye region of negative faces than controls did. Latency of first fixation at the eyes of a positive face predicted physiological reactivity to that face and time spent gazing at the eyes of a positive face predicted caregiver ratings of positive emotional reactivity in daily life. Time spent gazing at the eyes of negative faces predicted physiological reactivity to negative film stimuli and recognition of negative emotions in faces. Time spent gazing at negative faces in the paired faces task predicted caregiver ratings of negative emotion recognition in daily life. Results of the present study show deficits in emotional gaze in FTLD compared to controls and suggest that reduced attention to emotional cues negatively impacts higher-order aspects of emotional functioning, including emotional reactivity and emotion recognition.

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