Diminished facial EMG responses to disgusting scenes and happy and fearful faces in Huntington's disease

Catarina C. Kordsachia, Izelle Labuschagne, Sophie C. Andrews, Julie C. Stout

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


(Huntington's disease HD) is a neurodegenerative disorder associated with impaired facial emotion recognition and altered subjective experience of emotion. These impairments likely result from the effects of the disease on underlying neurobiological mechanisms. Studies using self-report to examine emotional experiences have been ambiguous regarding whether experiences are diminished or exaggerated, possibly due to cognitive impairment and lack of insight in HD. To infer affective states more objectively and overcome the limitations of self-report, we used facial EMG to measure muscle responses to emotionally-evocative scenes. Further, we examined muscle responses to emotionally-expressive faces, because facial mimicry is thought to facilitate emotion recognition and social affiliation. Twenty-three HD participants (late pre-manifest and early symptomatic) were compared to twenty-five healthy controls in a scene condition and a face condition. EMG activity was measured from facial muscles associated with expressing particular emotions: 1) corrugator supercilii for anger, 2) frontalis for fear, 3) levator labii for disgust, and 4) both zygomaticus major and orbicularis oculi for happiness. Compared to controls, HD participants showed diminished responses to disgusting scenes, and to happy and fearful faces. Our findings provide evidence for a loss of disgust experience in HD. Further, consistent with the alleged affiliative function of facial mimicry, diminished mimicry responses may be relevant to social-emotional changes in HD. Our findings help understand the neural mechanisms underlying emotion processing impairments in HD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-199
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


  • Disgust
  • Emotion processing
  • Emotion recognition
  • Facial EMG
  • Facial mimicry
  • Huntington's disease

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