Does comorbid anxiety counteract emotion recognition deficits in conduct disorder?

Roxanna Short, Edmund Sonuga-Barke, Wendy Adams, Graeme Fairchild

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (SciVal)


BACKGROUND: Previous research has reported altered emotion recognition in both conduct disorder (CD) and anxiety disorders (ADs) - but these effects appear to be of different kinds. Adolescents with CD often show a generalised pattern of deficits, while those with ADs show hypersensitivity to specific negative emotions. Although these conditions often cooccur, little is known regarding emotion recognition performance in comorbid CD+ADs. Here, we test the hypothesis that in the comorbid case, anxiety-related emotion hypersensitivity counteracts the emotion recognition deficits typically observed in CD.

METHOD: We compared facial emotion recognition across four groups of adolescents aged 12-18 years: those with CD alone (n = 28), ADs alone (n = 23), cooccurring CD+ADs (n = 20) and typically developing controls (n = 28). The emotion recognition task we used systematically manipulated the emotional intensity of facial expressions as well as fixation location (eye, nose or mouth region).

RESULTS: Conduct disorder was associated with a generalised impairment in emotion recognition; however, this may have been modulated by group differences in IQ. AD was associated with increased sensitivity to low-intensity happiness, disgust and sadness. In general, the comorbid CD+ADs group performed similarly to typically developing controls.

CONCLUSIONS: Although CD alone was associated with emotion recognition impairments, ADs and comorbid CD+ADs were associated with normal or enhanced emotion recognition performance. The presence of comorbid ADs appeared to counteract the effects of CD, suggesting a potentially protective role, although future research should examine the contribution of IQ and gender to these effects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)917-926
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
Issue number8
Early online date2 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016


  • Conduct disorder
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Callous-unemotional traits
  • Comorbidity
  • Emotion recognition
  • Response biases
  • Social information processing (SIP) theory


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