Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Deciphering Facial Expression

Boring post title, interesting information.

Researchers set out to discover if teenagers with attachment disorder process facial emotions differently from teenagers with secure attachment. This study was done as part of  the Attachment Adoption Adolescents Research Network (AAARN), an international project focusing on attachment representation in adolescents and their parents.

( a handy sort of organization to know about, which I did not).

That seemed interesting. I never thought  differences in attachment vs. lack of attachment might be linked to how the person interprets facial expressions.

After a whole lot of testing and evaluating which I did not understand, they discovered that the attachment disordered group processed facial expression more slowly and with less accuracy than the control group ("attached" teenagers).

They also found a variety of "significant" deficits in the group with attachment disorder. Most of these are probably not a surprise to anyone who lives with it. Anyway, here they are:

executive function attention
processing speed
visuospatial abilities
cognitive flexibility

They concluded that the deficits were a result of the way the group processed facial emotion. Being slower and less accurate with defining facial expressions seems to hinder other abilities.

The article relates how different attachment styles are shown to involve different area's of the brain. There are visible differences between anxious, avoidant and insecure attachments that can be seen in activated brain regions.

So, they concluded that attachment patterns shape social emotional processing.

Of course, that led me to a pant load of questions!

Could kids with Attachment Disorders (AD) be taught to interpret facial expression?

In working with kids with Autism, a big area of focus is cuing in and interpreting facial expression. Usually, a therapist starts with flash cards of faces with the intention of eventually using real faces. I wonder if that ever becomes 'natural' for the kids. Like, do they see a face and automatically know? Or is it always a 2 step or more process? Would the same work for kids with AD's?

The origins of Autism and the causes of Attachment Disorders are different, does that matter?

If one were to teach a child with AD to more quickly identify emotions, would the other areas (attention, processing speed etc.) improve? The authors of the study seemed to link them.

Since different areas of the brain are involved in different attachment styles, could there be therapies targeted some day to the specific sub-sets? Would that be SO FREAKING AWESOME?

Is the slow processing of other peoples emotions why the kids seem so oblivious sometimes?
Is it why my daughter is so ever-lovin' histrionic? She overplays it because that's the only way she identifies it in others? Maybe she thinks that's the way it is for everyone?
Is it part of why she is so hyper- vigilant to her environment? She doesn't pick up cues from people as to 'the mood of the room' so she obsessively studies what is happening instead?
Could that be why she always tries to dominate the room with herself? She can't identify a mood so she inserts the mood of her choosing?

Though the study was done on adolescents, I am guessing it applies to younger kids as well. I don't think puberty flips a switch that cuts off social- emotional processing, though I could be wrong.

And what causes it? Is it their brains are too overloaded with fear to access the sort of 'higher order' things? Is it because the cause of AD is lack of care and so they don't learn faces in infancy from adults? What else am I not thinking of?

This is the official study:
Attachment Patterns Trigger Differential Neural Signature of Emotional Processing in Adolescents
Authors are listed at the top.

There is a TON of good stuff on this site. It's just a tad overwhelming for those of us without forty seven doctorates in neuropsychology. A smidge. Ahem. Yeeks.


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