Social cognition deficits have been described in people with multiple sclerosis (PwMS), even in absence of a global cognitive impairment, affecting predominantly the ability to adequately process emotions from human faces. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to wear face masks that might interfere with facial emotion recognition. Therefore, in the present study, we aimed at investigating the ability of emotion recognition in PwMS from faces wearing masks. We enrolled a total of 42 cognitively normal relapsing-remitting PwMS and a matched group of 20 healthy controls (HCs). Participants underwent a facial emotion recognition task in which they had to recognize from faces wearing or not surgical masks which of the six basic emotions (happiness, anger, fear, sadness, surprise, disgust) was presented. Results showed that face masks negatively affected emotion recognition in all participants (p < 0.001); in particular, PwMS showed a global worse accuracy than HCs (p = 0.005), mainly driven by the "no masked" (p = 0.021) than the "masked" (p = 0.064) condition. Considering individual emotions, PwMS showed a selective impairment in the recognition of fear, compared with HCs, in both the conditions investigated ("masked": p = 0.023; "no masked": p = 0.016). Face masks affected negatively also response times (p < 0.001); in particular, PwMS were globally hastier than HCs (p = 0.024), especially in the "masked" condition (p = 0.013). Furthermore, a detailed characterization of the performance of PwMS and HCs in terms of accuracy and response speed was proposed. Results from the present study showed the effect of face masks on the ability to process facial emotions in PwMS, compared with HCs. Healthcare professionals working with PwMS at the time of the COVID-19 outbreak should take into consideration this effect in their clinical practice. Implications in the everyday life of PwMS are also discussed.

"What is hidden behind the mask?" Facial emotion recognition at the time of COVID-19 pandemic in cognitively normal multiple sclerosis patients

Ziccardi, Stefano
;
Crescenzo, Francesco;Calabrese, Massimiliano
2022

Abstract

Social cognition deficits have been described in people with multiple sclerosis (PwMS), even in absence of a global cognitive impairment, affecting predominantly the ability to adequately process emotions from human faces. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to wear face masks that might interfere with facial emotion recognition. Therefore, in the present study, we aimed at investigating the ability of emotion recognition in PwMS from faces wearing masks. We enrolled a total of 42 cognitively normal relapsing-remitting PwMS and a matched group of 20 healthy controls (HCs). Participants underwent a facial emotion recognition task in which they had to recognize from faces wearing or not surgical masks which of the six basic emotions (happiness, anger, fear, sadness, surprise, disgust) was presented. Results showed that face masks negatively affected emotion recognition in all participants (p < 0.001); in particular, PwMS showed a global worse accuracy than HCs (p = 0.005), mainly driven by the "no masked" (p = 0.021) than the "masked" (p = 0.064) condition. Considering individual emotions, PwMS showed a selective impairment in the recognition of fear, compared with HCs, in both the conditions investigated ("masked": p = 0.023; "no masked": p = 0.016). Face masks affected negatively also response times (p < 0.001); in particular, PwMS were globally hastier than HCs (p = 0.024), especially in the "masked" condition (p = 0.013). Furthermore, a detailed characterization of the performance of PwMS and HCs in terms of accuracy and response speed was proposed. Results from the present study showed the effect of face masks on the ability to process facial emotions in PwMS, compared with HCs. Healthcare professionals working with PwMS at the time of the COVID-19 outbreak should take into consideration this effect in their clinical practice. Implications in the everyday life of PwMS are also discussed.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11562/1056261
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