Computerised analysis of facial emotion expression in eating disorders

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Problems with social-emotional processing are known to be an important contributor to the development and maintenance of eating disorders (EDs). Diminished facial communication of emotion has been frequently reported in individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN). Less is known about facial expressivity in bulimia nervosa (BN) and in people who have recovered from AN (RecAN). This study aimed to pilot the use of computerised facial expression analysis software to investigate emotion expression across the ED spectrum and recovery in a large sample of participants.
297 participants with AN, BN, RecAN, and healthy controls were recruited. Participants watched film clips designed to elicit happy or sad emotions, and facial expressions were then analysed using FaceReader.
The finding mirrored those from previous work showing that healthy control and RecAN participants expressed significantly more positive emotions during the positive clip compared to the AN group. There were no differences in emotion expression during the sad film clip.
These findings support the use of computerised methods to analyse emotion expression in EDs. The findings also demonstrate that reduced positive emotion expression is likely to be associated with the acute stage of AN illness, with individuals with BN showing an intermediate profile.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0178972
JournalPLOS One
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2017


  • facial expression
  • computerised analysis
  • eating disorder
  • anorexia nervosa
  • bulimia nervosa
  • recovered
  • body language


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